BALTIMORE - Seventeen years to the day after breaking Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games, Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. wasn't up for another victory lap.
"I'm not taking a lap around the ballpark again ... those days are over, thank you," Ripken said on Thursday during a ceremony at which his lifesize bronze statue was unveiled in the picnic area of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Ripken became the fifth Orioles "legend" to have a statue ceremony. Previously honored Hall of Famers Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer and Earl Weaver were in attendance as was Brooks Robinson, who plans to participate in the final ceremony, his own, on Sept. 29.
Weaver, who managed the Orioles from 1968-82 and again from 1985-86 said he knew Ripken would be an excellent player earlier than most.
"From the first time his father brought Cal Jr. to Memorial Stadium as a high school player, I could see something special in him," Weaver said.
Ripken spent his entire 21-year major league career with the Orioles, making 19 All-Star games, and is one of only eight players in history with at least 400 home runs and 3,000 hits.
Murray called him a "great teammate" and Palmer said he couldn't think of a player "who did more on and off the field than Cal."
Ripken, of course, is best known for playing in a record 2,632 consecutive games from 1982-98.
Thursday's ceremony took on special significance because it was on the anniversary of what is widely considered the greatest night in Camden Yards history, when the "Iron Man" topped the "Iron Horse" by playing in his 2,131st straight game.
Thursday was also significant because it preceded an important late-season game against the New York Yankees. The Orioles began Thursday one game behind New York in the American League East. Ripken said during his speech that "being an Oriole is also about playing meaningful games in September."
Ripken congratulated manager Buck Showalter and the current Orioles on their season and lamented that the game he played here 17 years ago didn't mean more in the standings.
"The irony to me is that September 6, 1995, I wanted so desperately for us to be in the race and playing for a pennant, playing for a playoff position," Ripken said during a news conference after his speech. "We were a little bit further out at that time and then the focus became a little bit more on the [consecutive] games streak.
"So coming in [this] September 6, it feels really good to walk into that stadium and see the excitement, to see such a big series in September against the Yankees."
Longtime teammate Brady Anderson and brother and teammate Bill Ripken also spoke. Anderson drew laughs with an off-color line about having his durability compared to Cal's, and Bill chided those who called "The Streak" selfish, saying it would've been selfish for his brother to sit out a game just because he was slumping or facing Roger Clemens.
Ripken thanked all of the speakers, he thanked the Angelos family, he thanked his own family and he thanked sculptor Toby Mendez for capturing "the essence" of all the Orioles Hall of Famers in bronze.
Ripken seemed to enjoy reflecting back on "The Streak" and his career, and said this latest honor is appreciated, but is more about the organization.
"It does make you feel good being remembered," he said at his news conference. "This particular ceremony the meaning was clear, it's not about me. It was about the history of the Orioles, a celebration of the Orioles, the connection to what the Oriole Way stood for.
"I didn't know what to expect. I'm thrilled to be a part of it and I'm very honored that there's a statue out there with my likeness on it."