Hot dog! Now Ripken's franks are starting a healthy streak, too

September 07, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

IS CAL RIPKEN leading a charmed life or what?

Ripken has spent the better part of his professional life telling kids to drink their milk and eat a certain popular local brand of hot dog, which was considered something of a mixed message because of an ingredient in processed meat that was believed to have negative long-term health effects.

So what happens on the 10th anniversary of the day the Iron Man tied Lou Gehrig's supposedly unbreakable consecutive-games record?

The National Institutes of Health released preliminary results of a study on Monday that suggests that sodium nitrite - the much-maligned preservative contained in hot dogs, bacon and other cured meats - just might be an important tool in the treatment of heart attacks and several serious diseases.

"I just always thought it was a great baseball food," Ripken said last night. "We grew up on them and I still eat them. They're about all Ryan [his son] will eat, so I'm happy to hear that."

Personally, I'm not surprised. I've long considered bacon a health food and try to eat some at every meal, but - just to be safe - I cut down to three hot dogs per game because of the nitrite scare in the 1990s (which is no small thing when you consider that I have to eat almost constantly to maintain this weight).

Now, NIH researchers are finding that sodium nitrate may protect cells in the heart, lungs and brain from the life-threatening tissue damage that can result after a heart attack or other ailment that causes a loss of blood flow and oxygen to the major organs.

Gotta believe that it won't be long before modern science also comes around to my view that exercise is bad for you.

Of course, it's important to point out to young people that if you take my advice on anything related to health, fitness or nutrition, you're almost certain to grow up to look just like me. Some people might not consider that a good thing.

Now for the standard disclaimer: Nobody is saying that eating a high-fat diet rich in processed meats is going to make you live longer. Fatty foods still clog the arteries and contribute to heart disease, and the nitrates contained in some meats may well contribute to other health problems. The NIH research is aimed at developing a cheap, effective drug to battle the effects of diminished blood flow, not to reassure paunchy sportswriters that they were eating right all along.

I still believe, however, that laughter is the best medicine, so sick people are strongly advised to avoid anything written by Ray Frager.

Though I am not The Sun's media critic or ombudsman, I've got to take issue with a headline that topped the front page of the Sports section yesterday: "Palmeiro to rehab in Texas."

In what dictionary is the word rehab defined as "... to hide or remain out of sight as long as it takes for the heat to die down"?

Irritating "Iggle" update: Terrell Owens does not have a diary entry posted on his official Web site (, but he is running a contest for fans to determine what touchdown celebration he performs the first time he gets into the end zone in Monday night's opener in Atlanta.

The winner gets a signed T.O. jersey, so I figured, what the heck?

My suggestion: Spike the ball, sprint to the Falcons' bench and plant a big, wet kiss on Ron Mexico.

It's not an accident that the Eagles are opening with a Monday night game on the road. The NFL tries to avoid scheduling Monday games in Philadelphia as a courtesy to Eagles fans, many of whom forget to have someone read the schedule to them and end up arriving at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday morning.

Local FM radio personality Mickey Cucchiella (98 Rock) has taken me to task for showing no respect whatsoever to the world's most popular sport, which he contends is something called soccer. He claims that the passion for soccer (some people call it football, but I call it a slingblade) is so great in the United Kingdom, for instance, that fans routinely get staggering drunk, break into spontaneous renditions of their unintelligible fight songs and pound the bejesus out of each other. How proud they must feel.

I don't care much for non-contact sports, but in the interest of equal time, I've offered Mickey a chance to debate me on the subject during one of my upcoming radio shows. I'll even spring for the booster chair.

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