'Iron Man' Ripken ready to call it a career
BALTIMORE Having accomplished everything he set out to do in the game he's always loved, Cal Ripken is ready to try something new.
Eager to spend more time with his children and teach baseball to a new generation, Ripken said yesterday he will end his 21-year career at the end of this season.
"I don't see this as an ending so much. I'm not stopping something. I'm just moving on," said Ripken, who has played his entire career with the Baltimore Orioles. "The reality is that players can't play forever."
During his lengthy and productive career, Ripken earned a World Series ring, two MVP trophies and the reputation as the most durable player in baseball history.
The announcement came on the 98th anniversary of the birth of the Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees, whose seemingly unbreakable record of playing in 2,130 straight games was shattered by the man who became known as the Iron Man.
The timing was ironic, but perhaps not entirely coincidental.
"Don't think that Cal doesn't plan these things," said bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks, who has been with the Orioles throughout Ripken's career. "Isn't today Lou Gehrig's birthday, or close to it? Is it Yankee Stadium where he will finish his career?"
Yes, it is. After nearly 3,000 games and 12,000 at-bats.
His decision to retire came not because of injuries he missed parts of the previous two seasons with back problems but because he wants to spend more time with this family.
"I'm as healthy now as at any time," he said. "The last couple of years I've been noticing that I miss being away from home. I miss my kids' activities and it seems like the passion ... I was getting into other things."
In his hometown of Aberdeen, Ripken has financed a complex that includes a 5,500-seat minor league stadium, a baseball academy, dormitories, dining halls and six baseball fields modeled after past and present major league stadiums.
"I have a big interest in teaching baseball," Ripken said. "Baseball's in my blood. I see this as a beginning, an opportunity."
When the time comes for Ripken to tip his cap one final time, he will do so with the knowledge that he got the most out of his talent.
Ripken recalled hearing some players talk about their regrets. Some wished they took better care of themselves, others said they wanted to play more and a few lamented not taking the game more seriously.
"I didn't want to be in a position at the end of my career and regret not going about it a certain way," Ripken said. "So when I look back, I don't have those regrets. I accomplished what my skills, ability and determination allowed me to."
Ripken, 40, has always played the national past-time with a certain childlike exuberance. But this season, reduced to a part-time player on a team geared toward youth, his approach became more businesslike.
Ripken holds the major league record for consecutive games, playing in 2,632 from May 30, 1982, to Sept. 20, 1998, when he voluntarily ended the streak.
Ripken, whose 345 home runs as a shortstop are a major league record, has been forced to share time at third base this season. He's hitting .207 with four homers and 25 RBIs after going 0-for-3 last night against Toronto.
He is defined by his consecutive games streak, but Ripken is also one of only seven players in major league history with 3,000 hits (3,107) and 400 home runs (421).