- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2001

BALTIMORE Cal Ripken officially announced yesterday that he would be retiring at the end of the year, so I asked what I thought was the obvious question of Baltimore Orioles manager Mike Hargrove:

"So Mike, are you going to keep the final game lineup card?"

Hargrove smiled and replied, "No, I don't need that kind of aggravation."

He knows exactly what kind of aggravation that is. After all, the last manager to try to cop a valuable Ripken lineup card was Phil Regan, who kept at least one copy of Ripken's record-breaking 2,131st consecutive game in 1995 and wound up getting sued for it by Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

Shame on me. How could I be so cynical on Lou Gehrig's birthday?

That's right. The day that Ripken officially announced he would be leaving the game at the end of this year, his 21st as a player, just happened to be the birthday of Gehrig, the man Ripken is forever linked to after breaking his record of 2,130 consecutive games.

You can't plan that kind of poetic symmetry. It just happens.

Actually, Ripken revealed his plans to retire the day before in The Washington Post. He said it just came out while he was being interviewed in the context of a story about his work with youth baseball, the academy he is building in Aberdeen, Md., and the Cal Ripken League for kids. "I was asked a direct question… . would this be my last season," Ripken said at yesterday's news conference at the B&O; Warehouse. "I paused for a minute, wondering what the ramifications of answering that question would be, and then just said, 'Yes, this is my last year.' "

Just like that. And it just happened to set the stage for his retirement announcement on the day the other Iron Man was born.

Must be Iron Karma.

I guess that's all Hargrove had to do to find out whether Ripken was going to retire at the end of this year just ask him. As it was, he found out from a newspaper reporter in a 1 a.m. phone call. So did Peter Angelos.

There's some karma there, too. It's called Kiss Off Karma, as in the Orioles can kiss off any relationship with Ripken in the future.

The estrangement between the club specifically Angelos and Ripken has been growing wider and wider for several years, and this year it was obvious when the team chose to put some unknown sculpture on its media cover instead of featuring Ripken, who, despite all the hoopla, was expected to retire at the end of this year. It continued with the official declaration later this year that Ripken would be a part-time player.

And it was on display for all to see in this retirement announcement, when club officials were among the last to know Ripken's plans.

Maybe they should have been checking their birthday calendar.

Ripken was asked yesterday whether he would want to continue his post-playing career with the Orioles in some capacity, and, like he always does, he carefully chose his words to answer. "I'd like to sit back and take a deep breath after the season is over, and for the short term the immediate plans that I have is to really dive into the youth initiatives, go over construction plans, sit in on design meetings and work all those things out and be home and be flexible in my schedule and go to family activities," he said. "I'd like to sit back and see what happens, take a break a little bit and analyze and evaluate things that might come my way."

What is likely to come his way is an offer to be part of the group that is remaining when major league baseball relocates a team to either Washington or Northern Virginia. Ripken's plans to work with youth baseball are noble and ambitious, but he is too valuable to major league baseball not to be part of it. Even with the questionable style in which his retirement announcement unfolded, no one can deny Cal Ripken has a special connection with baseball fans that the game needs more of, not less, and baseball can't afford to lose that kind of symbol. Let's face it, he pulled the game out of the grave in 1995, when The Streak followed The Strike.

Ripken has talked about wanting to help run the baseball operations of a franchise, and it is clear that will never happen in Baltimore as long as Angelos owns the Orioles. Washington-Northern Virginia is a viable alternative maybe the only one with poetic symmetry, something that seems to appeal to Ripken.

There will be growing speculation about Ripken's future plans in the coming months. But for now, most of the attention will be on Ripken in the present, and at least the Orioles can benefit from that. This is a team that would have been off the radar screen come the opening of training camp for the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins. Now there is a reason to show up at Camden Yards for meaningless games in August and September the last chance to see a great player who changed the most important position on the field shortstop and set a record that will never be broken by playing in 2,632 consecutive games.

But keep your eye on Frank Howard's birthday.

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