Strike nearly strands streak Season stops, but owner, union keep up chase The Ripken Years: 1994

THE BALTIMORE SUN

If not for the strike, Matt Williams or Frank Thomas might hold major-league baseball's single-season home run record and Tony Gwynn might be the most recent .400 hitter.

The 71Z2-month labor dispute prematurely ended their challenges to those milestones and refocused attention on another, Cal Ripken's pursuit of Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record.

The owners' threatened use of replacement players and the union's refusal to return to work jeopardized Ripken's streak at 2,009 consecutive games, 122 shy of breaking Gehrig's mark. That's when players, fans and an outspoken owner from Highlandtown took up Ripken's cause, making the Orioles' shortstop a symbol of what was right about baseball and making the aborted 1994 season a symbol of what was wrong.

"I felt a little bit uncomfortable becoming a focus, as it was," Ripken said in a news conference this season. "I felt uncomfortable about it being an issue of collective bargaining. I felt uncomfortable about it being an issue about replacement baseball."

He became, in effect, a bargaining chip.

The Major League Baseball Players Association was behind Ripken.

Mark Belanger, a former Orioles shortstop and a special assistant to Donald Fehr, the players association's executive director, approached Ripken at an October union meeting in New York.

"I pulled him aside and said, 'By the way, if you would like, we can talk to the players and see how they would feel if you decided you want to play. You're an unusual circumstance,' " Belanger said at the time.

Ripken declined the offer. The players were on Ripken's side and would have understood his decision to cross the picket line for the sake of the streak.

"This is no everyday record," Houston Astros pitcher Todd Jones said. "This is a Halley's comet-type thing he's going after. It's safe to say that none of the union members would hold it against him."

Ripken had another major backer during the labor dispute: Orioles owner Peter Angelos. The outspoken labor lawyer refused to support the idea of replacement players, subjecting himself to possible fines, suspensions and forfeiture of games.

Angelos based his position, popular with fans but unpopular with his fellow owners, on his principles, his representation of union workers and his support for the streak.

Ripken said: "Personally, I think it's commendable he acted on his beliefs, and, even though I became part of that or the streak became part of that, I would still like to believe that my particular situation wasn't the motivating reason why he took the stand he took."

City and state legislators supported Angelos' stance by passing laws that banned the use of replacement players at Camden Yards. In the end, the laws did not apply. The strike was settled after 71Z2 months, replacement players weren't used in regular-season games and Ripken's streak was preserved.

Ripken's 1994 season, one of his career best with a .315 batting average, 13 home runs and 75 RBIs in 112 games, was cut short. So were the potentially record-breaking seasons of Thomas, Williams and Gwynn.

The places of Roger Maris and Ted Williams in the record books were secure, Gehrig's less so.

Ripken became more comfortable as a symbol, especially when he stopped being a martyr and went back to being a player.

"In some cases, with Mr. Angelos' stance and people having a definite opinion and seeing me as a victim, what happened was that my situation became symbolic of everyone's feelings - the fans' feelings about baseball - how we follow statistics and how we follow history and how important the game is to us," Ripken said shortly after the strike was settled.

"They were using me as a symbol to show their feelings for baseball, and that's great, because I feel the same way about baseball."

SEASON HIGHLIGHTS

* Bats over .300 for the fourth time.

* Drives in 75 runs, second on the Orioles behind Rafael Palmeiro.

* Leads AL shortstops in double plays turned (72). Establishes the major-league record for most years leading the league in that category (seven).

* Extends his major-league record for home runs by a shortstop to 302.

* Hits .369 (58-for-157) with four homers and 25 RBIs in his last 39 games.

* Hits his 300th home run on May 24 at Milwaukee.

* Hits .336 (96-for-286) with 10 homers and 57 RBIs from the cleanup position.

* Plays in his 2,000th consecutive game Aug. 1 in Minnesota. Is honored at Camden Yards the day before.

* Leads American League shortstops with 13 home runs and major-league shortstops with 75 RBIs.

* Hits 11 of his 13 home runs off right-handed pitchers.

* Has five hits in 10 at-bats with the bases loaded.

* For the first time since 1918 - when World War I stopped play just after Labor Day - the major-league season ends prematurely. In baseball's eighth work stoppage in 22 years, the players go on strike Aug. 12 and team owners cancel the final 249 games of the regular season.

* The World Series isn't played for the first time since 1904.

* The era of six divisions and two wild-cards playoff teams begins.

* Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes of the Chicago Cubs is the first major-league player to hit three homers in his first three Opening Day at-bats.

* Ken Griffey hits his 21st home run May 23, breaking Mickey Mantle's mark for most homers in the first two months of the season.

* Nancy Kerrigan, a leading contender for an Olympic gold medal, is clubbed across the right knee at the U.S. figure skating championships in Detroit on Jan. 6.

* Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States, dies on April 22.

* Dr. Jack Kevorkian is acquitted May 2 of violating a state law against assisted suicide.

* Nelson Mandela becomes president of South Africa after F. W. de Klerk concedes on May 2.

* L.A. police charge former football star O. J. Simpson with two counts of murder, and follow Simpson on a bizarre 60-mile low-speed car chase on June 17.

* Four years after his conviction for smoking crack, Marion Barry wins the Democratic nomination for mayor of Washington on Sept. 13.

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