Standing ovations at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium, autograph requests from opposing teams and news conferences every major-league city. Cal Ripken has engendered at least one thing from fans, players and the media: respect.
On the heels of the longest labor dispute in the history of professional sports, Ripken's pursuit of Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record was just what baseball needed. The talk of the game shifted from the strike to the streak.
The significance of Ripken's achievement and the way he
conducts himself on and off the field have made him baseball's ideal ambassador.
"He's the most respected man in baseball," Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson said in the team's soon-to-be-published 104-page Cal Ripken commemorative book.
So respected that when opposing teams visit Camden Yards, Ripken is inundated with autograph requests from fellow players.
Fred Tyler, the visiting clubhouse manager, acts as the liaison between Ripken and opposing players. "The only thing I can equate it to is Nolan Ryan, during his last year," Tyler said recently. "And even that wasn't close."
Ripken signs about two dozen baseballs per homestand for opposing players. "And that's really only the overflow," Tyler said. "It's much more than that when we're on the road."
Not that Ripken minds.
He graciously signs autographs at home and on the road for fans. Even the day after Ripken received death threats in Seattle, he signed autographs (with beefed-up security) for one hour before the game. His post-game signing sessions at Camden Yards have lasted almost two hours.
It is cathartic for Ripken to sign autographs, especially for children.
"To see their faces light up, or to shake hands and talk to a kid for a second, that's really a nice feeling," Ripken said earlier this season.
The hometown fans have returned the favor, showering him with standing ovations each time another number is unfurled on the Camden Yards warehouse.
Ripken could do without the dramatic ceremony each time another game becomes official. And he could do without the media attention - the news conferences in every city, the adulatory magazine articles and newspaper stories and the television spots.
"It makes me feel really good," Ripken said in a news conference earlier this season. "My general response is to downplay it. I try not to give myself any level of importance, especially when it comes to that. . . . I don't make as big a deal as some other people make of it, and maybe that's the only way I can deal with it, the only way I can protect myself against changing my approach."
Some of the attention Ripken receives is unavoidable and unexpected.
Ripken received a memorable ovation Aug. 9 at Yankee Stadium, the home of Gehrig's streak and the home to some of baseball's meanest yet most knowledgeable fans. Ripken had doubled twice and in the eighth inning homered to left field - the ball landing not far from Gehrig's monument.
As Ripken, 27 games away from breaking Gehrig's record, rounded third base, many fans stood and applauded. The cheers continued as Ripken headed into the dugout.
"It was nice, very nice to hear," Ripken said that day. "You don't get many ovations on the road too often."
The reaction at Fenway Park the next day was even more incredible because Ripken hadn't done a thing. It happened before his first at-bat. Ripken was introduced in the second inning, stepped to the plate and the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
L "What do I do?" Ripken asked Boston catcher Mike Macfarlane.
Ripken stepped out of the batter's box and acknowledged the cheers by tentatively waving his right hand to the crowd. Macfarlane didn't give him any help.
"I told him, 'I don't know,' " the catcher said the next day. " 'It just shows what kind of person you are.' The fans here appreciate good baseball, and Cal is good for baseball."
* Commits two errors in 7-4 loss to Twins on April 27, his first multiple-error game since June 1993.
* Has a combined five infield hits in two games against the Mariners on May 26 and 27.
* Hits his fourth career grand slam in a 9-5 victory over the Athletics on June 3.
* Goes 2-for-3 in the All-Star Game at The Ballpark in Arlington before being removed for a pinch runner in the seventh inning.
* Makes a diving catch to save a 2-1 victory over the White Sox on July 6.
* Hits two home runs (his ninth and 10th of the season) in a 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays on July 31. It is Ripken's first two-homer game since Aug. 27, 1993.
* Hits double digits in home runs for the 14th consecutive season.
* Surpasses Brooks Robinson to become the Orioles' career leader in runs (1,255 through Friday).
* Ties Boog Powell for the Orioles' career walks record (889 through Friday).
* The 7 1/2 -month player strike ends without a collective bargaining agreement but before owners could start the regular season with replacement players. Fans strike back, reducing attendance about 19 percent.
* Hall of Fame slugger Mickey Mantle dies of cancer a little more than two months after receiving a liver transplant. He was 63.
* Former Oriole Eddie Murray, now with the Indians, gets his 3,000th hit.
* Mariners star Ken Griffey misses nearly three months after breaking his left wrist making a catch.
. . . and the world
* A circus-like atmosphere surrounds the trial of former football star O. J. Simpson, charged with the murder of his ex-wife and her friend, in Los Angeles.
* Tom Hanks (left) becomes the first actor to win back-to-back Best Actor Oscars since Spencer Tracy in 1937-1938. Hanks, who won for "Forrest Gump" on March 27, had won last year for "Philadelphia."
* More than 100 people are killed in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19.
* Michael Jackson releases HIStory on June 20, a double-CD set with 15 new songs and 15 greatest hits.