Iron men are rooting for Ripken Williams, Garvey understand chase

Billy Williams' streak ended at 1,117 with a soul-searching decision to sit one out.

Steve Garvey's streak ended at 1,207 with a broken thumb and a cloud of dust at home plate.


One went willingly, the other painfully. Both men know a little about the path Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken travels these days as he chases the record of Lou Gehrig.

"Those of us who have played in significant streaks are a small fraternity," Garvey said yesterday after playing in the Upper Deck Heroes of Baseball Game at Camden Yards.


The fraternity starts with Gehrig, who played in 2,130 consecutive games, the record. Ripken is next with 1,823. Garvey ranks fourth, 100 games behind Everett Scott, and Williams checks in fifth.

You pay a heavy price to join this club.

Williams, a slugging outfielder with the Chicago Cubs, did. The mental strain of a streak that began in 1964 reached its crisis in 1970. Leo Durocher managed the Cubs, and the two of them talked about the inexorable demands of the streak.

"I was not doing the little things," Williams said in the Heroes clubhouse, a few lockers away from Garvey. "I wasn't as aggressive because I was trying to save something for the next game. I decided it was enough."

So after more than six years without a day off, Williams sat and fidgeted on the bench. "I kept thinking, 'Should I go in?' right up to the last out," he said. "Once it was over with, it took a couple of days to decide whether it was the right decision."

It was: "I sat one game. I felt fresh. I just wanted to break the string."

Garvey broke Williams' National League record playing iron man for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mental strain? He remembers the mind games he would play.

"You start dreaming about being on the freeway at 4 p.m., it's the bottom of the ninth and it's a day game instead of a night game," Garvey said, now able to laugh at the memory. "Or one day the ump clears the bench, and you're on it and the streak ends at 2,129. . . ."


Garvey remembers the feeling when he was no longer in pursuit of Gehrig.

"It was a very hollow feeling," he said. "For 7 1/2 years, there's a game every day. It became the real focus in my life. When it ends, it's a big letdown."

For what it's worth, the fraternity is rooting for Gehrig's record to fall.

"Cal's so close to it now, I would like to see him do it," Williams said. "He's beyond the worst part of it."

Garvey seconded the thought. "Cal's a tremendous role model, not only for the Orioles, but for baseball," he said.

"I'm a big fan of Cal's. I know what he's going through."