Cal Ripken

Saying goodbye: After a Hall of Fame career with the Orioles, Cal Ripken is saying farewell at season's end. Team owner Peter G. Angelos called Ripken "a great athlete, a great sportsman and a great Marylander." (Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr. / June 19, 2001)

Feeling a pull rather than a push, Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken officially announced yesterday his retirement after the season, thus ending a relationship and a lineage with the only organization he has ever known.

Ripken and his wife, Kelly, walked into a sixth-floor party room in the B&O warehouse about 36 minutes late for a 3 p.m. news conference and quickly ended years of speculation about the end of the Iron Man's Hall of Fame career. Saying that the decision had been "tormenting" him, Ripken expressed relief at designating an end to the most productive career in team history.

Describing it as "totally a personal decision," Ripken spoke vaguely of his future but confidently of where his past has brought him. He made clear that he is completely comfortable with his decision.

"I didn't feel any pressure up to this point or any other point to make a decision. It's totally a personal decision. It came from within me. And I paid attention to the signs that were pulling at me," said Ripken, who appeared in slacks and a sport shirt and sat next to his wife. "I made a commitment to the Orioles to play the season. That's important to me. I'd like to fulfill that to the organization and continue to play and help the club in any capacity. ... I'm just going to continue to try and work at this. There was no push. There was a pull that helped me make the decision."

The Orioles seemed surprised at the timing of Ripken's announcement. Manager Mike Hargrove and majority owner Peter G. Angelos learned of it early yesterday morning from local media. The club's vice chairman and chief operating officer, Joe Foss, expressed "total surprise" at the announcement, adding: "No one I know of had an inkling that this was going to happen. Peter didn't know. Even Mike Hargrove didn't know."

Angelos learned of Ripken's decision about midnight Monday. Foss said Angelos intended to attend yesterday's news conference, but canceled at the last moment. Foss instead read a five-paragraph statement from Angelos calling Ripken "a great athlete, a great sportsman and a great Marylander."

"Cal's remarkable record-setting statistics as a player are only part of his astonishing story. His work ethic, his constant striving for excellence and his many contributions back to his community have established him as a role model for players and fans alike," Angelos' statement said.

"The Orioles are proud that he has been an integral, essential part of our team for more than two decades. He will always be a special legacy for the Orioles and our fans.

"Cal Ripken has shown he loves the game of baseball, but I speak for many when I say that baseball loves him as well."

Offensive struggles

This season, Ripken has struggled offensively since enduring an abbreviated spring training. He is hitting .207, with four home runs and 25 RBIs. Hargrove has gradually reduced Ripken's playing time because of his lagging production and to provide playing time for developing Orioles.

Asked if better production might have complicated his decision, Ripken said: "I honestly can say no. Could I stick my chest out a little further and be happier and less frustrated from a baseball perspective? Absolutely. But ultimately it wouldn't change my feelings for the other projects and the challenges that are ahead of me outside my playing career. It wouldn't change my feeling the need to be closer to my family. To fully understand that is to understand the lifestyle I've led my whole life."

The Orioles had suggested their intent to move beyond Ripken earlier this season, when Syd Thrift, the vice president of baseball operations, said the club needed to find Ripken's successor. However, neither the club nor Ripken suggested that club sentiment had weighed in his announcement.

"I don't think there was any doubt that Cal was going to make this decision for himself," said Hargrove. "I don't think there was anything that we could do or wanted to do to force Cal to make this decision. ... People earn things, and Cal has certainly earned the right to say when he wants to go."

Teammate Jeff Conine said: "You look at it in two ways: It's very special to play with one of the greatest players of all time, and I'm looking forward to the time he still has on this team."

The Orioles now must intensify their search for a replacement. Thrift acknowledged that no candidate looms in the farm system.

"We knew one day, someday, we were going to have to have a third baseman we could depend on for a long time," Thrift said. "That's our goal. It's not that easy. I don't see that many Cal Ripkens available right now."

Born into a baseball family, Ripken experienced an itinerant childhood as a son of a minor-league manager. Cal Ripken Sr. later managed Cal Jr. and brother Bill in Baltimore, but the impressions of those early years spent in small towns or waiting for a father's return are indelible.

"I always planned that sometime I would have that window of opportunity my dad didn't have with our kids ... where I can be there with my family," Ripken said.