An encore for Ripken

O's, Ripken roll out the same old numbers

The Streak: 10 Years Later

Baseball

September 07, 2005|By JOHN EISENBERG

WHEN THE 2,131st game of Cal Ripken's consecutive-games streak began 10 years ago last night at Camden Yards, the Orioles were nine games under .500 and 19 1/2 games out of first place.

When the game marking the 10th anniversary of 2,131 began last night at Camden Yards, the Orioles were, well, nine games under .500 and 16 1/2 games out of first place.

So they made up three games in 10 years.

Which means, if my math is correct, we can expect them to win another division title in 55 years.

Ripken would be 100 then, but he probably would be asked to come back and throw out the first pitch. The Orioles have long relied on the historic occasions that arose during his career (and now, the memory of them) to help bolster their gate and divert attention from what was happening on the field. Imagine how dependent they would be after 55 more years.

Sorry, I'm venting. But with the O's wrapping up their eighth straight losing season, it's clear more than ever that Ripken, and the history he represents, is all they've got.

The next big event on the franchise calendar almost surely will be Ripken's Hall of Fame induction in 2007. And the next big event after that? It could easily be the 20th anniversary of 2,131, a decade from now.

It certainly won't be a playoff game, not at this rate.

To its credit, the club staged a warm commemoration of one of its best big events last night. The numbers banners were back up on the warehouse, and the last digit changed in the middle of the fifth inning, when the game became official. Ripken and his family sat on high-backed chairs in the infield before the game. Ripken spoke to the fans, who stood and cheered. The opposing Toronto Blue Jays stood on the top step of their dugout and applauded.

Even though Camden Yards was surprisingly less than half-full after a month of fairly intense marketing by the club (proving, if anything, just how angry the fans are about all that's happened in the second half of the 2005 season), it was easy to conjure one's own memories of that night of real history - one of the best nights ever in Baltimore.

"You feel a lot of magic stepping on the field where it all happened," Ripken said last night.

But in too many ways, the backdrop also smacked of a soap opera you could tune into after taking years off, only to find that nothing had changed.

When Ripken passed Lou Gehrig in September 1995, Orioles manager Phil Regan was an obvious lame duck, waiting to be fired. A decade later, the club has already fired one manager in 2005, and interim Sam Perlozzo's future is up in the air.

In 1995, then-general manager Roland Hemond's contract was about to expire. (He was replaced after the season.) In 2005, the contracts of dual architects Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan are also up.

Some things never change.

The long losing cycle seemingly has even depressed Ripken, who admitted last night this year's second-half collapse was "sad," primarily because hopes were raised during the surprising first half, which included a 62-day stay in first place.

"There was genuine excitement in the stands when it looked like we were every bit as strong [as the Yankees and Red Sox], and then things changed really quickly," he said. "It's a little sad and makes you scratch your head and wonder. Me personally, I went through many different rebuilding processes and the changes that occur."

Along those lines, while the fans appreciated last night's reprise of history, they surely would much rather see a reprise of the events of 10 years ago this fall, when Pat Gillick and Davey Johnson were hired as general manager and manager, and Gillick then signed Roberto Alomar, B.J. Surhoff and Randy Myers, and traded for David Wells.

That bold flurry of shrewd acquisitions led to playoff appearances in 1996 and 1997 - the only times since 1983 that the Orioles have made the postseason.

What would be a 10-years-later version of that franchise-altering flurry? How about Ripken buying the team and instilling his baseball values? He already dines with owner Peter Angelos once every six weeks, according to Ripken spokesman John Maroon. Maybe they can start dickering.

Of course, Ripken didn't sound at all interested last night, saying he was "happy" and "content," and smiling when he spoke about the joys of family time and the flexibility in his schedule. Admittedly, that probably beats worrying about Jorge Julio's command.

But he did leave open the possibility of getting back in the major league game at some point, saying he might re-evaluate when his daughter Rachel, 15, and son Ryan, 12, were out of the house.

With all due respect, can we hurry that process along?

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