For the record, Ripken's streak has the record-keepers on edge


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Craig Carter, statistical editor for The Sporting News, doesn't care to decide the fate of Cal Ripken's consecutive-games streak.

"I don't want to play God," he says.

But should the Orioles' shortstop remain on strike, and should replacement players be used in regular-season games, Carter may not have a choice; he is responsible for determining the criteria for records published in The Sporting News Complete Baseball Record Book.

Carter said he hasn't spent much time contemplating the scenarios that could develop, and he says that he could change his mind. Right now, however, this is how Carter is leaning:

* If the Orioles refuse to field replacement players and forfeit their games, Ripken's streak will continue.

* If Major League Baseball somehow wrests control of the Orioles away from owner Peter Angelos and fields a replacement team, then Ripken's streak will come to an end.

* If some baseball official, such as acting commissioner Bud Selig, makes a pronouncement on Ripken's streak, then Carter "will probably abide by it."

Ripken has played in 2,009 straight games and needs 121 more to tie the all-time record set by legendary Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig.

"I'd just have to decide what I think would be the best way to handle it," Carter said.

Angelos says there's only one way to handle it.

"This is an important issue for baseball," he said. "To deprive this player of this extraordinary record would be a travesty, an unforgivable travesty.

The reason Carter holds preeminence in the matter is that Major League Baseball does not publish a record book or employ record-keepers. That is left to independent companies.

The Sporting News, based in St. Louis, and the Elias Sports Bureau, in New York, are the two most prominent record-keepers, and each has its set of rules in determining and compiling records. The Sporting News' record book does not acknowledge saves before 1969, when the current rules for determining a save were put into place; Elias does.

Conceivably, Ripken's streak could be alive and well as far as The Sporting News is concerned, but dead in the eyes of the Elias Sports Bureau.

Last September, Seymour Siwoff, the general manager of Elias, said that if the Orioles were to field a replacement team, then Ripken's streak would end.

There is precedent for this. When the NFL Players Association went on strike for three games in 1987, all the stats from those replacement games counted, and can be found in the record books today.

However, Angelos has complicated the issue with his refusal to use replacement players. A source on the Baseball Operations Committee said last week that the major leagues have two options -- order the games forfeited or try to take the team away from Angelos and field a replacement Orioles team.

This places Carter and Siwoff squarely under the gun in determining whether Ripken's streak lives or dies. Siwoff says he hates the idea of having that responsibility and declines to speculate on what his company's decision would be.

"A lot of things have to happen before we have to discuss the Ripken thing," Siwoff said.

Two things, really. The strike must continue and replacement players must be used in regular-season games, two very distinct possibilities.

"I don't really want to get into it," Siwoff said. "The truth is that everyone in this office is praying that none of this occurs. The truth is we like baseball here . . . and we got into this business because we love the game.

"We've told our people to tell callers that we can't speculate. . . . It's an uncomfortable position for everyone right now. We want them to play. Unfortunately, the union doesn't feel the same way we do."

Siwoff was asked if he and his staff had discussed possible decisions. "I have to be truthful," Siwoff said. "Yes, we have."

Major League Baseball could give The Sporting News and Elias strong signals on how to handle the Ripken record, as commissioner Ford Frick did in 1961. That year, Roger Maris chased Babe Ruth's single-season record for homers of 60.

Frick, a longtime admirer of Ruth's, announced that if Maris were to supplant Ruth in the record book, he would have to do so in the first 154 games -- the length of the schedule in 1927, when Ruth set the mark. Maris didn't hit his 61st homer until the 162nd and last game of the year, and the feats of Ruth and Maris are entered in the record book separately.

"That shouldn't happen," Angelos said when asked about the possibility of Ripken's streak surviving, but with an asterisk in the record books, "because the Ripken record is intact. He's played in every game possible. If you're going to refer to the Iron Man of baseball, I think we better start referring to Cal Ripken. I would hate to see that kind of distinction put on this record."

Also, Angelos says Ripken's and Maris' situations aren't comparable.

"There is a difference between Cal's and Maris' situation," he said. "We're talking about events beyond Ripken's control, events that should've been avoided. This is much different, because it's caused by a labor-management dispute. Ultimately, think this will be a negative reflection on baseball. Not just one team or two teams, but all of baseball."

In the end, the decision likely will rest with baseball.

"I would suspect that if some official in Major League Baseball declares what they want to do . . . we would probably abide by it," Carter said.

Phyllis Merhige, the vice president of media affairs for the American League, has said repeatedly that league president Gene Budig is reviewing the situation, and if some announcement is to come, he probably won't make it until just before the regular season is to begin.

If replacement players are used, Carter said, he likely would add some footnote to Ripken's place in the record book, whether or not the streak continues.

A5 "Let's face it," he said. "This is a crazy year."

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