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Ripken's retirement
really hurts

Page 2

Tony Gwynn once missed a couple of games after he smashed his thumb in the door of his luxury car while going to the bank. Bob Tewksbury went on the disabled list after he pinched his finger in the bathroom door on the team bus. Steve Foster injured his shoulder trying to knock over milk bottles on a late-night talk show." San Diego's Adam Eaton missed a start last month when he stabbed himself while trying to open a DVD ...

Cal Ripken Jr.
Cal Ripken Jr. literally reached out and touched baseball fans on the night he broke Lou Gehrig's record.
I suddenly feel as old and tired as the Famous Chicken's routine. My shoulder aches, my back is stiff, my hair is falling out in Maris-like clumps, my knees are howling like Christina Aguilera at full throttle, and I can't find my car keys anywhere.

On Monday night, Cal Ripken Jr. announced he is retiring at the end of the season. This, his 21st major-league summer, will also be his last. His last game likely will be Sept. 30 at Yankee Stadium.

Oh, we all knew this was coming. Ripken turns 41 in August, has spent much of the year playing as if he's 51 and looks as if he's 61. He is hitting .210, and the former Iron Man misses almost as many games as he plays lately. So we knew this was his final season before he finally made it official.

Then again, we also know we're all going to die, but that doesn't make the obituaries any easier to read.

Ripken is retiring and everyone is a little older today. Damn, does this mean I have to start watching Willard Scott?

Cal Ripken
Ripken won two MVP awards and has been selected to the All-Star team 19 times.
Rickey Henderson missed a couple games due to frostbite on his foot -- in August. Steve Sparks separated his shoulder trying to rip a telephone book in half with his bare hands. Ricky Bones went on the DL after he strained his back getting up from the couch to change the channel on the clubhouse TV. David Cone missed a start when his mother's Jack Russell terrier bit his finger ...

Basketball and hockey players play a few times a week. Football players play once a week. Baseball players play every day. That's what separates them from other athletes. Yeah, they might spend half the game sitting on their butts, chewing tobacco. They might spend much of the remaining time standing in the field, scratching themselves. But, damn it, they play every day.

The real beauty of baseball is its continuity. From day to day and season to season. From the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training to the final out of the World Series, from our first error in Little League to our last error at the company picnic, baseball is there for us. More than anything else, it's dependable.

That's why Ripken and his Streak were so important. We could count on them.

Ripken made his major-league debut the day after that season's strike ended. And when the 1994-95 strike ended, Ripken was there for us again, breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive-game streak and representing everything that was good about the game. That night the big numbers on the brick B&O warehouse turned to 2,131, Ripken circled the field, reaching out to the fans and literally connecting them again to the game.

  From the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training to the final out of the World Series, from our first error in Little League to our last error at the company picnic, baseball is there for us. More than anything else, it's dependable. That's why Ripken and his Streak were so important. We could count on them.  

In that one gesture, Ripken restored baseball's continuity and made us temporarily forget the strike. He also nearly made up for the final seven Innings of Ken Burns' "Baseball."

Brian Jordan strained his back carrying his daughter around at Disney World. Rick Aguilera strained his wrist lifting his wife's luggage onto the team truck. Dave Nilsson missed much of the 1995 season after contracting Ross River Fever, a mosquito-borne disease that annually affects 200 Australians. Randy Veras hurt his hand pounding on a hotel wall trying to get the people in the next room to shut up. Chris Brown missed a game with a strained eyelid after sleeping on his eye funny ...

The Streak loomed so large in Ripken's career that it cast a shadow nearly as large as David Wells'. Which is unfortunate, because it occasionally obscured just how good a player Ripken has been.

Cal Ripken
Ripken not only has collected more than 3,000 hits and 400 homers, he also played stellar defense at shortstop.
He was the 1982 Rookie of the Year, the AL Most Valuable Player in 1983 and 1991. He won multiple Gold Gloves and made 19 All-Star teams. He will be elected to the Hall of Fame as soon as he becomes eligible in 2007. There is a reason he played 2,632 consecutive games, never missing a game despite injury and cuts and bruises and aches and strains. It was because he was the best player to take the field each game.

It's as fashionable as Capri pants to complain about Ripken leading AL third baseman in All-Star votes. That he isn't playing well enough to be on the team. That Anaheim's Troy Glaus should be in the starting lineup instead. That fans vote for Ripken the way South Carolinians must vote for Strom Thurmond, by reflex.

All that is true, but I don't care. I want Ripken in one last All-Star Game. Not for what he's done this season, but for everything he's done the past 20. I want him to take the field one more time along with the game's greatest players so that we can all stand and cheer and properly say, Thank you, Cal.

Kevin Mitchell strained a muscle while vomiting. Mickey Tettleton developed severe athlete's foot from tying his shoelaces too tight. Ken Griffey Jr. missed a game after his protective cup slipped and pinched a testicle. David Wells missed part of spring training because of gout. Vince Coleman missed the 1985 World Series when the tarp machine gobbled him up ...

Jim Caple is a senior writer for

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