Ripken to retire

Sun Staff

Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken will end his Hall of Fame career at the end of this season, a spokesman for his management group confirmed early this morning.

Ripken, the game's record-holder for consecutive games played and a symbol for Major League Baseball as well as the hometown franchise for which he has played his entire 21-year career, will announce the decision at a 3 p.m. news conference today at Camden Yards after telling the Washington Post yesterday of recently reaching a decision to retire.

"He's been struggling with this, thinking about it, and finally just said, 'Yes,'" John Maroon, a Ripken spokesman, said early this morning. "There were three factors that played into it: his youth initiative, his family and the direction the Orioles have taken."

Orioles officials did not learn of his decision until hours after last night's 3-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

Ripken, 40, will play the rest of the season, according to Maroon, before appearing in uniform for the final time, against the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium on Sept.30.

As recently as Saturday, Ripken had said he had no intention of announcing a decision on his future at next month's All-Star Game in Seattle. He did not elaborate.

The rebuilding Orioles had made clear with several moves this season that they were preparing to take a direction away from the perennial All-Star. Hargrove said in April that Ripken's playing time would be cut to "two to five games a week," a slight reduction from previous estimates and a description that confirmed Ripken's status as a part-time player. Last month, vice president for baseball operations Syd Thrift said the team was actively seeking Ripken's successor.

Ripken initially reacted icily to team pronouncements but, according to a club source, recently told the club that he was willing to accept a less visible playing role. Ripken has since become essentially a platoon player, rarely starting against right-handed pitchers while the team's RBI leader, Jeff Conine has usually taken his place.

"It's inevitable that you can't play forever," Ripken told the Post. "I've maximized my window of opportunity as well as anyone. [Baseball] has given me a lot of joy and happiness and satisfaction. I'm proud of what I've been able to do."

Time for 'other things'

Ripken said he is ready for "other things," which will include greater involvement with the Aberdeen Project, the construction of an elaborate baseball facility near his childhood home. Ripken also plans to spend more time with family, according to Maroon.

"The Aberdeen Project was one thing pulling him," Maroon said. "Another thing was his family, and that's been there for a couple years now. He wanted to spend more time with them. And the third thing is, obviously the Orioles have a plan in place. Cal doesn't want to block that plan and inhibit them from moving forward on the path they're on. He certainly respects the Orioles and the path they're on. The two largest factors are the family and his passion for what's next."

Angelos: 'Typical Cal'

Ripken did not inform Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos of his decision before making the announcement, but Angelos was not surprised by the news.

"I think it's the same approach he used when he ended The Streak," Angelos told The Sun early this morning. "He kept his own counsel, and when he decided, he decided. That's typical Cal.

"That's the way he does things. Obviously, we respect it and we can say that there will never be another Cal Ripken. He is a great athlete, a great sportsman and a great Marylander."

Ripken took some criticism for continuing to play beyond his best years, but Angelos said the player had every right to decide when his career should end.

"In light of his accomplishments, he deserves a lot of latitude," the owner said. "Baseball owes him. He doesn't owe baseball anything. Here's a guy who never deviated from the contract figure that he had five years ago, never demanded any more, he has never gotten credit for that. I have a great deal of respect for him."

Reached after leaving Camden Yards, manager Mike Hargrove said he was unaware that Ripken had made a decision.

"I would rather wait until saying anything," Hargrove said early this morning. "It caught me totally by surprise. It certainly wasn't an easy decision for Cal to make. I'd rather wait to say more."

Ripken was not in last night's lineup against the Blue Jays and is hitting .210 with four home runs and 25 RBIs in 48 games. His early production was affected by an abbreviated spring training that resulted from fractured ribs suffered in a basketball game at his Reisterstown home. He recently adjusted his batting stance and homered Saturday night in Philadelphia. He has not played since.

Ripken began preparing for the "inevitable" several years ago when he devised plans for the complex in Aberdeen. It will include dormitories, a 6,500-seat minor-league stadium, a series of youth stadiums that will play host to the World Series for Babe Ruth Baseball's Cal Ripken League.

Looking ahead

Imbued with the philosophies of his late father, former Orioles manager and coach Cal Ripken Sr., Ripken also hopes one day to assume an upper management or ownership role with a major-league franchise. Ripken is also involved in producing a book about youth instruction. He also has an ownership stake in a Reisterstown restaurant and will become more actively involved in his management group.

Bothered by injuries the previous two years that have cut his playing time, Ripken told the Post of recently feeling "a pull to do other things."

"The more stuff you get involved with away from the field, the more you discover what energizes and challenges you," Ripken said. "Baseball has always done that for me. But in recent years there have been other things that energize me."

Incessant speculation about when he would retire has long bothered Ripken, who has been followed by a crew commissioned by Major League Baseball to document what was expected to be his final season. Until recently, Ripken had curtailed the project to focus more heavily on playing. The crew recently returned to follow Ripken, albeit in a less visible manner.

Ripken told the Post: "I'm not doing this to have a farewell tour or to have people look at this as their last chance to see me. What I really want to see happen for the rest of the year is to thoroughly enjoy the game, what I've done my whole life, for what it is. I want to just enjoy the freedom of just coming to the ballpark and enjoying it."

A career for the Hall

Few players in the game's history have given it a more compelling moment than on Sept. 6, 1995, when Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's streak of 2,130 consecutive games played. Ripken didn't sit until Sept. 20, 1998, when he had played 2,632 straight games. The season's denouement will provide a classic symmetry as Ripken will have the opportunity to make his final address as a player in the same setting in which a dying Gehrig faced his fans in 1939.

Ripken reached the majors on Aug. 8, 1981, beginning a career that all but certainly will lead him to the Hall of Fame. He was named the American League's Rookie of the Year in 1982 and the Most Valuable Player the next year while helping the Orioles to their last World Series title. Appropriately, he recorded the last out of the final game by catching a line drive from Philadelphia's Garry Maddox.

In 1991, the Orioles' final year at Memorial Stadium, Ripken became the second player in major-league history to be named league and All-Star Game MVP, major-league Player of the Year, and win a Gold Glove in the same season.

His resume also includes appearances in 17 All-Star Games -- he didn't play last year because of a back injury -- and he holds or shares 11 major-league or AL fielding records. Ripken has won two Gold Gloves, both at shortstop, before returning to third base in 1997.

Injuries limited Ripken to 86 games in 1999 and 83 in 2000 while forcing him on the disabled list for the first time in his career. They also hastened speculation over Ripken's retirement, which had been rumored as a possibility during this summer's All-Star break.

Yesterday, Ripken put an end to those rumors.

"I think a lot of it was the timing," Maroon said. "The timing was right."

Sun staff writers Peter Schmuck and Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

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