Iron Man's timing on, as always

Commentary: Fittingly, decision shows Ripken's love for team, judgment

He got it right again.

With his decision to retire at the end of the 2001 season, Cal Ripken has again displayed the proper sense of timing and judgment he has shown throughout his remarkable career.

No, he isn't going to try to keep playing beyond this season when it's become clear that he shouldn't.

No, he isn't going to wind up at odds with the only team he has ever played for in the major leagues, simply because he can't summon the resolve to call it quits.

No, he isn't going to do the unthinkable and trundle off to another team at age 41, in a fit of desperation.

He's going to do it right. He's going to hold his head up, give the Orioles and their fans and all of major-league baseball four months to say goodbye, then head to the sidelines with a smile, knowing in his own mind that he has made the right decision -- and that no one else is making it for him.

Perfect.

That's always how Ripken has done it throughout his career, and now, at the end of his career.

Forget the numbers, records and accomplishments that will make his first-ballot election to baseball's Hall of Fame a certainty five years from now. What I will remember about Ripken is his grace under pressure, his unerring sense of timing, his capacity for always getting things right in the end.

Remember what will be recalled as the pinnacle of his career, the two-day celebration in 1995 when he tied and broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played? He hit a home run in both games, with the entire sports world watching. It wasn't a coincidence.

Remember when it was time for his consecutive-games streak to end in 1998 and no one was sure how, if or where he would try to do it? An issue that was the subject of months of intense speculation ended abruptly and perfectly on the night of the last game of the season at Camden Yards, when Ripken sat out a game and gave the home fans a chance to show their appreciation. The Yankees stood on the top step and applauded when they realized what was happening, a gesture as moving as it was unplanned.

Perfect.

Now, Ripken has done it again, clearing up a lingering uncertainty with the potential for trouble. There will be none, it turns out. He will play the rest of this season for the Orioles, make the grand tour of cities and ballparks he deserves, and retire.

His choice.

His alternative was to try to keep going beyond this season, a possibility that was troubling many in the game, with Ripken barely hitting above .200 in June. Though still solid in the field, he lacked the range and consistency he'd once shown there, and his bat, well, it just wasn't the same.

The time had come. But a man who'd played in 2,632 straight games was nothing if not supremely stubborn, and proud of it, and there was concern that Ripken would just refuse to go because he loved the game so much and couldn't stand to give it up.

As it turns out, he loves the game so much that he knows exactly when to retire. And it's his decision and his alone, not one made by an owner or general manager or fans or newspaper columnists or talk-show callers or any of the many who have spent so much time expressing what they think is right for Ripken.

This is right. And it's Ripken's choice.

Perfect.

It doesn't mean Ripken was wrong to come back this year, or that the Orioles were wrong to give him that final chance. He'd hit .300 when healthy over the past two seasons. The Orioles didn't have anyone else to play third base. If he wanted to give it a shot, after all he had done for the game and Orioles, he deserved the shot.

It hasn't worked out as well as he wanted, but to suggest that Ripken is embarrassing himself is just wrong. He's still in there digging, working, thinking, doing things to help an overachieving team. He can still play. But he can't play as well as he wants or should, and he has satisfied himself that such is the case, so the time has come for him to step aside.

The time is right.

Anyone who thought he might not realize it, that he might not nail the ending to his career perfectly, just as he has nailed the first 19 years, well, they obviously hadn't paid attention.

In the end, Cal Ripken always gets it right.

ORIOLES SCOREBOARD


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