An End of an Era

by Michael P. Hamilton | 6/21/01 5:00am

Today there is no joy in Mudville. The entire community of baseball fans, diehards and casual fans alike, has learned it will soon be losing the epitome of the durable, gritty and, above all, reliable ballplayer.

Yes, that is right folks, baseball's Iron Man, Cal Ripken, Jr., will be hanging up his spikes at the end of this season.

You may remember Ripken as the man who broke Lou Gehrig's seemingly unbreakable record of 2,130 consecutive games in 1995. From May 30, 1982 to September 20, 1998 you could find Ripken penciled in at short or third base for the Baltimore Orioles. That is 2,632 games. No sick days. No stints on the DL. No days to rest an aching body.

The 40-year-old Ripken played through all sorts of injuries and ailments, not letting something minor sidetrack him from his job helping the O's win ballgames. To Ripken, every day was just another day at the office.

To put this in perspective with other sports, let us look at what 2,632 games really means.

In the NFL, there is a game every Sunday. That is one game per week.

In hockey and basketball, teams play three or four times per week.

Baseball players play every day. From early April until late September, baseball players must suit up virtually every day. Granted, the game of baseball might not be as physically demanding as other sports, but over 162 games of anything can grind you down.

That is 162 games of diving for grounders up the line, legging out infield grounders, and sliding hard into second. Not exactly an easy task.

If there is anything to console the mourning baseball fan, it is that Ripken is retiring on his own terms.

There is no question that Ripken is not the player he used to be. Skills deteriorate with age, even for Cal Ripken.

This year he is batting a mere .207 with four homers and 25 RBI.That is a far cry from his .275 lifetime average, 3,107 hits, and 421 home runs.

The 18-time All Star and two-time MVP knows he is in the twilight of his career and doesn't want to have any regrets about the way he is leaving baseball.

That is just the way a class act like Ripken would want to end his career.

With him it was always about the team first. When Ripken decided to end his Iron Man streak at 2,632, it wasn't because of an injury.

It was because Ripken feared all the attention on his streak was distracting the Orioles from their job of winning games. For a man who spent his 21 seasons with one team, devotion to team isn't something just thrown around.

In this day of free agency, loyalty is bought and sold by agents who urge their clients to take the money and run.

Spending an entire career with one team is unheard of nowadays. But this fact only serves to highlight Ripken's status as a throwback to a previous era.

An era when ballplayers played for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back.

An era when grit, determination and loyalty were the norm, not the exception.

There is no question Cal Ripken will enter the annals of baseball as one of the greats. Not just a great story or a sideshow but a man who performed exceptionally, and did so for 21 years and 2,922 games.

His numbers will open the doors to Cooperstown for him, but it will be his grit and durability that he will be remembered for.

Baseball fans, when the Cal Ripken, Jr. farewell tour jumps from city to city this year, savor it.

Though Ripken may not be able to swing the bat like he once did and misses some of the balls in the hole that he once picked up with ease, he should still be remembered and honored for his years of service to his Orioles and baseball as a whole. Major League Baseball will have a void to fill with Ripken's departure, but we shouldn't worry about that for now.

Let this be an opportunity to give a word of thanks. Thank you Cal.