Baseball was headed for another labor war, this one much worse than the one that interrupted the 1981 season. The players went on strike in August 1994, and the World Series had to be canceled for the first time in 90 years, creating a public backlash that cut deeply into attendance after the players returned for a slightly shortened 1995 season.
Ripken, whose lengthy consecutive-games streak was fortuitously closing in on Yankees great Lou Gehrig, met baseball's public relations problem head-on. He embraced the growing anticipation of his attempt to pass Gehrig and delivered a season-long autograph session that rebuilt the bond between Major League Baseball and its disenchanted fan base.
"It was a way of saying thank you for the support, for all the good things that were happening," Ripken said.
The final years of Ripken's career coincided with a sharp upturn in the sport's offensive statistics. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both surpassed Roger Maris' single-season home run record during the 1998 season. Both would pass 60 homers the following year, too, and Barry Bonds' 73 homers this season broke McGwire's 3-year-old record of 70.
The overall surge in offensive and power numbers could affect the future perception of Ripken as an offensive force - 26-year-old Alex Rodriguez, for instance, needs just three more 40-homer seasons to eclipse Ripken's record of 345 home runs by a shortstop - but he proved in his final seasons that even a serious, chronic back injury could not keep him from being a highly productive player when he was able to play.
The times certainly changed during his impressive career, but Ripken never seemed out of place.