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Baseball Marvels at a Job Well Done

Reaction: Ripken hailed for his work ethic, record that may never be broken.

September 21, 1998|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As a youngster, Seattle Mariner shortstop Alex Rodriguez had a large Cal Ripken poster in his room.

As a young player, he had Ripken as a confidant.

As a young star, Rodriguez now had a chance to honor Ripken, whose consecutive-game streak came to an end Sunday.

"We should celebrate what he has done," said Rodriguez, who was 7 on May 30, 1982, when Ripken began the streak. "I don't want to say the game owes anything to anyone, but he has done a lot for baseball."

Similar sentiments were repeated across the nation after players learned that Ripken's streak ended at 2,632 games when he pulled himself out of the lineup before the Orioles' game at Baltimore against the New York Yankees.

For Rodriguez, the moment was more personal. He and Ripken have been close since Rodriguez's rookie season in 1996. The two were on an all-star team that toured Japan after that season and they have spent a lot of time together since.

"I think I was learning to ride a bicycle [when Ripken's streak started]," Rodriguez said.

"When I first met him, he was aware that he was my icon or role model, whatever you want to call it. He taught me a lot about playing baseball. He made me mentally and physically tough. We played basketball and did different things during the off-season.

"I know he was shouldering a lot of pressure because the team needed to look at some prospects. I told him at the All-Star game that if his team was playing like it did last year, the streak would not even be an issue."

Some players felt that Ripken's decision to sit out may have leapfrogged Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa surpassing Roger Maris' home run record as the season's top story. Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-game record against the Angels on Sept. 6, 1995.

"I think his was more important because [when he set it], it was so close to the time of the strike, the time of the finger pointing and the ill will," Angel shortstop Gary DiSarcina said.

Players were quick to attach the never-be-broken tag to Ripken's record.

"Who has the second-longest streak right now?" Mariner outfielder Ken Griffey said, then paused to wait for the answer. "That tells you all you need to know about what kind of an accomplishment it was.

"He just went out there and played every day, and played hard, and was extremely lucky to have all his kids born on off days."

The longest active streak now belongs Chicago White Sox outfielder Albert Belle, who is at 327. And he is not likely to ever be referred to as an ambassador for baseball.

Ripken began the night by telling his manager, Ray Miller, then called Oriole owner Peter Angelos and calmly told him.

"He just said it very typically Cal. No melodrama, no emotion," Angelos said. "Just flatly, 'This is what I'm going to do.' "

"I know of many injuries he's had and he's certainly been able to deal with them in a very, very spectacular way," Angelos said. "I think he's done the right thing.

"When you see it happen you wonder how anyone could have done what Cal has done here," he added. "I don't believe anyone will ever equal it."

"A lot of people who go to work every day can identify with Cal," Yankees pitcher David Cone said. "The streak supersedes baseball."

"Cal is the true iron horse of baseball," Mariner Manager Lou Piniella said. "He is getting up there in age, so what this does is open up the possibility for him to get some rest next season. With the schedule and travel now, it's so difficult to play 162 games.

"I salute him for his durability and persistence. He's done something that will never be done again."

But Rodriguez wasn't ready to pass Ripken off to posterity so quickly.

"He will play 145-150 games a year for the next two, three, four years," Rodriguez said. "What is great is that he ended while he was on a hot streak. It didn't end while he was struggling and it didn't end because of an injury. He ended it."

*

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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