From 700 miles away, members of the Orioles reacted to the retirement of Ryne Sandberg as if a guy in the clubhouse had called it quits.
Sandberg, a 10-time All-Star second baseman for the Chicago Cubs, announced his immediate retirement from the game yesterday, citing unhappiness with his performance.
Some of Sandberg's former Chicago teammates, who now wear Orioles uniforms, drew quick comparisons between the man who followed Ernie Banks as the most popular Cub and Cal Ripken.
"He reminded me quite a bit of Cal. That's one of the first things I thought when I came here," said Rafael Palmeiro, a Cub from 1986 to '88. "He's a guy who comes out to play. He's a professional about things and about the game. He's quiet. He goes about his business. People respect that."
Said manager Johnny Oates, who coached with the Cubs from 1984 to '87: "They're a lot alike. They don't say a whole lot on the bench or on the field, but they know how to play. They're both on that team I talk about of guys who go out and play every day. You don't have to get on them for lack of hustle. They're superstars on and off the field."
Unlike Ripken, however, Sandberg never got to a World Series, and was discouraged by the last-place standing of a Cubs team that hasn't won a world championship since 1908.
"If it doesn't look like that situation is going to get better, I compliment him, if that's the way he feels," said pitcher Jamie Moyer, who was traded with Palmeiro from the Cubs to the Texas Rangers in December 1988.
Ripken declined to comment on Sandberg's retirement before last night's game.
Sandberg, who hit .309 last season and had a career .290 batting average entering 1994, was in a 1-for-28 slump and was batting just .238 with five homers and 24 RBIs this year.
Said Palmeiro: "I still think he's a great player. You just don't lose your skills overnight. This game is so much mental. If your head's not in it, you're not going to perform and that's the whole thing."
Sandberg signed a four-year, $28 million contract before last season, but said he had decided during spring training to retire after this season. He was said to be upset that the Cubs organization allowed both Greg Maddux and Andre Dawson to leave after the 1992 season and said he didn't want to accept a top contract for less than top-level play.
"Obviously, he's not in it for the money to walk away like that," said Moyer. "I really respect that. I also respect the numbers he put up and the way he played the game. Win, lose or draw, he always played the game."
Despite his abrupt departure, Sandberg certainly will merit consideration for the Hall of Fame.
"He was the best I've ever seen," said Orioles closer Lee Smith, a teammate of Sandberg's from 1984 to '87.
"He may not have been the top defensive player ever, but he did everything above average. I guess he's going to have to listen to a lot of bull [in Chicago] about him playing basketball now."