|Monday, June 18
Updated: June 22, 1:47 AM ET
Ripken: 'I'm just moving on'
BALTIMORE -- Nothing lasts forever -- not even Cal Ripken Jr.
Baseball's Iron Man, who broke Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games, will retire after his 21st season with the Baltimore Orioles -- the only team he ever played for.
"I don't see this as an ending so much. I'm not stopping something. I'm just moving on," the 40-year-old third baseman said at a news conference Tuesday, which would have been Gehrig's 98th birthday.
Injuries were not a factor, said Ripken, who has been plagued by back problems in recent seasons. Time away from his family was.
"I'm as healthy now as at any time," he said. "The last couple of years I've been noticing that I miss being away from home. I miss my kids' activities and it seems like the passion ... I was getting into other things."
Ripken, a two-time Most Valuable Player, said it was the start of another phase in his career, one that will include more time with 11-year-old Rachel and 7-year-old Ryan.
"The reality is that players can't play forever," he said.
Ripken played in 2,632 straight games, from May 30, 1982, to Sept. 20, 1998, when he voluntarily ended the streak. At the time, Ripken said he chose to sit down because he feared his Iron Man run was a distraction to the Orioles.
Though he is defined by his consecutive-games streak, Ripken is also one of seven players in major league history with 3,000 hits (3,107) and 400 home runs (421).
He is a rarity in baseball -- a player who has spent his entire career with the same team. Baltimore also happens to be the team he grew up rooting for, and the one his father once managed and coached.
"The Orioles have been my whole life," he said.
An 18-time All Star whose 345 home runs as a shortstop are a major league record, Ripken has been a part-time player this year. He is hitting .210 with four homers and 25 runs batted in.
Ripken recalled hearing some players talk about their regrets. Some wished they took better care of themselves, others said they wanted to play more and a few lamented not taking the game more seriously.
"I didn't want to be in position at the end of my career and regret not going about it a certain way," Ripken said. "So when I look back, I don't have those regrets. I accomplished what my skills, ability and determination allowed me to."
Ripken has always played the game with a certain childlike exuberance. But this season, reduced to a part-time player on a team geared toward youth, his approach became more businesslike.
"The one thing I noticed missing this year is that little boy," said Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks, who has been with the Orioles throughout the player's entire career.
"There's always been a little boy in Cal. This year he's not having much fun. ... That's the part I miss in Cal this year."
Ripken agonized over the decision, which he initially arrived at weeks ago. But he delayed an announcement, just in case he changed his mind.
A few more weeks of bench time, in addition to his failure to lift his average over .220, helped him make up his mind.
"Going into the season, I didn't know. I had to play it out and see where it would end up," Ripken said. "The last couple of weeks it just dawned on me."
Ripken broke Gehrig's long-standing record on Sept. 6, 1995, and the celebration surrounding his feat became a national event. Ripken spoke this spring about his disdain for a possible farewell tour, but that now appears inevitable.
Ripken's final home game would be Sept. 23 against the New York Yankees. Coincidentally, the Orioles finish the season Sept. 30 in Gehrig's home -- Yankee Stadium.
By 9 a.m., 75 people were in line at Camden Yards hoping to buy tickets for Ripken's final home game. At 9:30 a.m., an announcement over the public address system alerted those in line that tickets for the final two games at Camden Yards were sold out. Only standing-room tickets remained.
The Yankees sold 19,600 tickets Tuesday to sell out the Sept. 30 game.
Fans, meanwhile, expressed gratitude for Ripken's longevity.
"I guess it was not unexpected," said Bob Hahm of Westminster. "What he did for baseball is truly amazing. This is one of those things in life. Life goes on."
Ripken has said he wants to run a major league organization, similar to the way Michael Jordan has become the president and part owner of the Washington Wizards.
In his hometown of Aberdeen, Ripken has financed a complex that includes a 5,500-seat minor league stadium, a baseball academy, dormitories, dining halls and six baseball fields modeled after past and present major league stadiums.
"I have a big interest in teaching baseball," Ripken said. "Baseball's in my blood. I see this as a beginning, an opportunity."
Ripken was American League rookie of the year in 1982 and was selected league MVP in 1983 and 1991. He won a World Series championship with the Orioles in 1983.
In 1990, Ripken set a record for shortstops with a .996 fielding percentage, making just three errors in 161 games. He moved to third base in 1997.
In 1999, Ripken and Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs were selected as the shortstops for baseball's "All-Century" team.
Ripken, who regularly signs autographs before games at home and on the road, has often spoken about his love for fans of the game.
They love him back. Despite his poor batting average and part-time status, Ripken leads all AL third basemen in voting for the All-Star game.
He said he would be honored to play in another All-Star game.
"It would be very special to say goodbye that way," he said.