Challenge to Ripken: Be Game Enough to Stop Just Short


The Baltimore Orioles are in town this weekend to play the Angels, and parents should take their children out to see Oriole shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. He represents everything baseball should be about and will be mentioned long after he retires as among the all-time greats.

If there’s no lengthy baseball strike, Ripken is on target to break one of the game’s most time-honored records next summer. He won’t break it by hitting a home run or stealing a base or throwing out a runner at first. He’ll break the record simply by showing up at the ballpark and doing what he’s done every day since July 1, 1982--play.

One of the axioms of sports is that records are made to be broken. All of them, I would argue, except this one.


Now that Ripken is in reach of sports immortality, I have a suggestion for how he could best attain it.

First, an update for non-baseball fans: Ripken is chasing Lou Gehrig’s streak of playing in 2,130 consecutive games. Gehrig’s streak ended in 1939 when he was in the early stages of the disease that would kill him three years later just before his 38th birthday. In the 55 years since Gehrig retired, three generations of baseball fans have saluted the streak as a near-sacred achievement, because Gehrig is remembered as the near-mythic “Iron Horse” and because no one has even approached the record. Other than Ripken, who has played in 1,983 straight games, no one in baseball history has come within 800 games of Gehrig’s streak.

Ripken has proved that the record can be broken. If I could, I would ask him not to.

At the risk of being laughed out of town, I would humbly suggest that Ripken ensure his place in baseball history by playing his 2,129th consecutive game next year and then taking himself out of the lineup the next day.

Why? Why pass up a chance to set a record?

In its simplest terms, Ripken should do it as a tribute to one of baseball’s legendary figures. It would be recorded as the most selfless act in baseball history. In an era when ballplayers are seen as rich, selfish and uncaring about those who came before them, what better message to send?

I’m making my pitch only because Gehrig’s record is different than other baseball marks. For example, I would never argue that Ripken not try to hit a home run or not try to get a hit every game, if those were the records he were chasing. The difference is that those efforts affect the outcome of a game and should not be toyed with. Records of skill are, indeed, made to be broken because they relate to the purity of competition. A consecutive-games record isn’t necessarily the product of talent on the field, but of luck, strength of will and character.

Ripken’s pursuit is unique in that if he chose to bench himself, he wouldn’t violate the spirit of the game. To the contrary, it has been argued that he should have been benched at some point during the last dozen years, if only to give him a much-deserved day off while slumping. My point is--with no disrespect intended--that at some point Ripken’s streak turned into a quest for Gehrig’s record. In that sense, Gehrig’s streak has a purer element to it in that he wasn’t chasing someone else’s record.


Ripken could remove any taint on his motivation by letting Gehrig keep the record. Further, the act of selflessness would be acknowledging the fact that Gehrig’s streak ended only because of his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, now widely known as ALS instead of “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” Gehrig obviously would have played longer had he not been stricken.


I am in no way impugning Ripken’s streak. There are elements of it that make it even more remarkable than Gehrig’s, in that Ripken plays a more demanding position--shortstop as opposed to first base--and that today’s millionaires think they’re thoroughbreds if they play 140 of a team’s 162-game schedule. To put Ripken’s achievement in perspective, TV announcers noted the other night that he needs only 147 games to match Gehrig’s record--and that only three other current players have streaks even that long.

So, no, this isn’t about Ripken’s worthiness. As with Gehrig, they’ll need a better grade of bronze when they make Ripken’s statuette in Cooperstown.

No, this is about a chance to do a noble deed that would far outstrip setting a record. It would be about respecting the memory of a man and letting stand a part of baseball’s tradition while in no way undermining the game’s integrity.

Ripken is such a stand-up guy, he’ll probably never sit himself down. But he’ll sit down someday, and why not after consecutive game No. 2,129?

By most reckonings, there’s no good reason for him to do so other than to pay homage to one of America’s great and tragic sports heroes.


My simple question: Why can’t that be reason enough?

Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.