He could have chased Lou Gehrig's record while wearing pinstripes. That's how much uncertainty accompanied his contract negotiations. But after 333 days, an agreement was reached on Aug. 24, 1992, and Cal Ripken was an Oriole for life.
At one point, Ripken seriously considered leaving Baltimore through the free-agent market. The Orioles didn't lose him because Ripken followed the career pattern established by his boyhood idol.
Sign a long-term contract. Be like Brooks.
Ripken's father taught him how to play the game, but Brooks Robinson showed him the type of career he wanted out of it - 23 major-league seasons with the same team, a willingness to sign autographs for anyone and everyone and a sincere involvement in the Baltimore community.
"It was easy to fix onto Brooks Robinson," Ripken said. "He handled himself well, and there was never anything negative said about him. There was an aura about him."
Ripken's adulation stemmed from Robinson's commitment to the Orioles. That commitment was tested only at the end of Robinson's career when he considered hooking on with an expansion team, the Seattle Mariners, for the 1977 season.
"With Cal," Ripken's attorney, Ron Shapiro, said, "that would never happen."
After 10 major-league seasons, it almost did. There were rumors that the Ripkens' Reisterstown dream house was up for sale and that his wife, Kelly, wanted to move to the West Coast to pursue a modeling and acting career. The real reason Ripken considered leaving, according to Shapiro, was Ripken's lack of off-field privacy growing up and playing in the same town. Free agency was the way out.
"There were times when the demands on Cal and his family - it was seen as an avenue in getting relief in their life," Shapiro said.
Not to mention offering a clever bargaining chip against penurious Orioles owner Eli Jacobs. The two sides were not that far apart, but the negotiations went on for months and admittedly distracted Ripken during the season.
They finally came to terms on Ripken's birthday, Aug. 24. Ripken signed a five-year, $30.5 million deal, reportedly only $500,000 more than the team's original offer. But it also provided a $2 million option for four years of post-career employment.
Ripken would be an Oriole for life.
"In my heart," Ripken said at the time, "I've always wanted to be an Oriole and - I can say this now - I never wanted to be anything else."
He wanted to be the next Brooks Robinson. The two Oriole greats have known each other for a long time.
"I used to see him when he was a little ragamuffin walking with his dad," Robinson said.
Robinson spent his whole career in Baltimore but grew up in Little Rock, Ark., listening to St. Louis Cardinals games and idolizing Stan Musial. Robinson knows what it's like to have a hero and is flattered that Ripken has chosen him.
"It makes me feel great," Robinson said. "I'm happy he decided I was his idol."
Ripken finished the 1992 season with a .251 batting average. His 14 home runs and 72 RBIs were the lowest totals of his career and broke his string of 10 seasons with 20-plus homers and 80-plus RBIs.
At one point, he went 73 games without a home run. His power outage could not be attributed solely to the contract negotiations: His productivity dropped after he was hit by pitches from the Toronto Blue Jays' Jack Morris (elbow) in April and Minnesota Twins' John Smiley (back) in July.
Ripken did not win any offensive awards after the 1992 season.
Other accolades put his career on a similar path with that of the more outgoing, less analytical Robinson. Ripken won his second Gold Glove and became the third Oriole to win the Roberto Clemente Award as the player who best represents baseball on and off the field. Ken Singleton was the second Orioles winner. Robinson was the first.
Win another Gold Glove. Receive the Clemente Award. Sign a long-term contract. Be like Brooks.
* Wins his second Rawlings Gold Glove.
* Leads American League shortstops in double plays (119) and putouts (287).
* Becomes the Orioles' all-time home run leader from the right side, hitting two at Milwaukee on June 23.
* Wins the American League Player of the Week for the seventh time in his career, going 12-for-24 from Sept. 13-20.
* Has two of the longest hitting streaks of his career - of 16 and 17 games - separated by just four days.
* Collects his 1,000th RBI at Oakland on Aug. 31 with a two-run single off Kelly Downs.
* Wins the Roberto Clemente Award, which is presented annually to the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball on and off the field.
* Is the eighth- toughest player to strike out, averaging one strikeout every 14.3 plate appearances.
* Bats .276 with runners in scoring position.
* Is the leading vote-getter in All-Star balloting. * The Toronto Blue Jays become the first team outside the United States to win the World Series.
* Commissioner Fay Vincent is forced to resign in August.
* The Seattle Mariners are sold to a group backed by the Japanese video giant Nintendo.
fTC * Cecil Fielder (right) is the first person since Babe Ruth to lead the league in RBIs three straight years.
* Robin Yount and George Brett pass the 3,000 hit mark.
* Dave Winfield, 10 days shy of 41, becomes the oldest player to drive in 100 runs.
* Jeff Reardon and Lee Smith bypass Rollie Fingers' all-time saves record of 324.
* President George Bush and Russian leader Boris Yeltsin agree on June 16 to drastic cuts in nuclear arsenals.
* U.S. voters elect Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton to the presidency.
* Queen Elizabeth agrees in late November to start paying taxes on her private income.
* Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the world, opens in August in Bloomington, Minn., after seven years of construction.
* The Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, attract more than 14,000 athletes from 172 nations.
* The U.S. Coast Guard begins returning refugees to Haiti on May 24.