- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 30, 2000

BALTIMORE.
"Oh the days dwindle down to a precious few …"
"September Song," by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson

For Calvin Edwin Ripken Jr., the days and games are dwindling fast. When he ends his two-month residency on the disabled list Friday, he will have 30 days and 29 games to decide his future.
Will Cal be back next spring for a 20th season? That's the only remaining item of interest for the Orioles this ghastly year, unless you care whether shaky shortstop Melvin Mora can let in more runs than he drives in.
Or whether Peter Angelos can hold off fast-charging Dan Snyder in the Obnoxious Owner category.
It would be preposterously presumptuous for anyone else to tell Ripken what he should do, of course, but let's try it anyway.
Don't just hang around, Cal, if it comes to that hang it up instead.
The overriding question, as Ripken has said, is whether his back problems linger or leave. Life may begin at 40, as the old radio show claimed, but baseball careers usually end there or thereabouts. Especially when infirmities raise their ugly head.
At this point, Ripken, his doctors and possibly God Almighty don't know what will happen to his back when he returns to the lineup. Manager Mike Hargrove plans to use Cal carefully, possibly as a designated hitter at first. But sooner or later, he will have to bend for a ground ball at third base, swing from the heels or sit for hours on a plane. What happens then? That's for September to determine.
No one doubts that Ripken will return if he feels healthy. But after all, he felt healthy this season until the night of June 27, when inflammation flared and he limped off the field more like an old man than merely an old ballplayer.
Consider this: When he returns Friday, the man who played 2,632 consecutive games from 1982-98 will have missed 147 of 295 games just about half in 1999 and 2000.
When Ripken underwent back surgery last September, he had the satisfaction of batting .340 for his mini-season, the highest figure of his career. This season his average is a whopping 101 points lower, though his power numbers are good, with 13 home runs and 43 RBI in 62 games.
Certainly Ripken doesn't want to quit with a batting average that would have been more suitable for slap-hitting brother Billy. But the matter may be out of his hands, as far as logic is concerned.
"It's his call," Tigers manager Phil Garner was acknowledging before last night's game at Camden Yards. "But it's better to retire a year too early than embarrass yourself the way Willie Mays did. Trouble is, guys like Cal have great pride, and sometimes that pride gets in the way of their knowing when to retire. They don't face reality, because the way they have always played is unreal."
Garner has watched Ripken for much of his career with proper admiration. "That streak … I remember six or seven years ago when Jesse Orosco was pitching for me with Milwaukee, he hit Cal smack on the ankle with a fastball. I said, 'Oh God, there [the streak] goes no way he'll play tomorrow night.' The next night, though, there he was out there at shortstop. Played well, too."
Detroit broadcaster Ernie Harwell has been around, man and boy, since the late '40s. "Cal simply is the epitome of endurance," Harwell offered. "You know that sooner or later, the end will come for everybody. But when Cal retires, it will be a loss for all baseball, for sure."
So we shall see what we shall see. Sometime next month, winter or spring, Ripken may hold a news conference and announce, in his understated way, that the time has come. Such a sad moment is vastly preferable to another season of limited play, stints on the DL or token appearances as a DH.
Besides, what more can he accomplish? He has the (probably eternal) record for consecutive games, the 3,000 hits, the 400 home runs. He also has the respect of nearly everyone in baseball as a consummate team player and a caring, sharing person. Sure he would like to play in another World Series, but he might be a grandfather by the time these pathetic Orioles get into one.
For the fans, he will stand forever as baseball's quintessential good guy in an era where aloofness and arrogance ooze forth in distressing measure from too many superstars. Anybody seen Albert Belle, the $65 million mistake, signing autographs after games lately?
I want to remember all the good things about the Orioles' greatest player ever, not his decline. So hang it up, Cal. The days are dwindling, and your work is done.

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