Cal Ripken's streak needs some perspective


I once knew a tavern owner named Max who went more than 10 years without missing a day of serving drinks from behind his bar.

He was there seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. He even opened the place a few hours on holidays out of compassion for his most loyal and needy lushes.

Foul weather didn't stop him. He was there during the most fearsome blizzards. Of course, he didn't have a long commute since he lived alone in the flat upstairs.

Max wasn't a workaholic. He usually hired a couple of retired geezers from the neighborhood to fill in during the slow morning and early afternoon hours, or when he spent a day at the track, went bowling, or perch fishing on the lakefront.

He didn't take vacations or travel beyond Chicago because he couldn't think of any place he wanted to go.

As he said: "I rented a cottage in Wisconsin once, but there were a lot of bugs. And why should I go all the way to foreign countries if they can't talk English?"

There is no way of knowing if 10-plus years is a record for tending bar every day, but it is an unusual feat. That's more than 3,520 days.

I mention it because of all the excitement about the record that has been set by Cal Ripken, the durable baseball player, who has taken part in more than 2,130 straight games.

Ripken's record is impressive, I suppose, but a few things should be kept in mind.

For starters, Ripken doesn't hold what I would call a full-time job, although it pays better than most.

Once the baseball season ends, he gets four or five months off. If he's tired, that's more than enough time to soak his feet in a pot of warm water. That's what Max did after a long day behind the bar.

And even when Ripken is working, the hours aren't bad. He can sleep in most mornings because the majority of games are played at night.

But it's not like a regular night-shift job, 4 to midnight or midnight to 8. The games last about three hours, so even with warm up and batting practice, it's over in five or six hours.

Then there are the days it rains hard and Ripken doesn't have to work, while still getting paid.

When it rained, Max just kept working. And the rain made it worse because he had to listen to the customers make boring conversation about the lousy weather.

ARipken is said to be unusually sturdy and willing to work when he has the aches, pains, sniffles and other ailments that afflict a young professional athlete.

Max, too, was sturdy, although he wore Dr. Scholl arch supports for his flat feet and a truss for his hernia. Once in a while, he worked through hangovers. That's dedication.

So my point is not to denigrate Cal Ripken's achievement, although a home run, a stolen base, or even a well-aimed bean ball is more exciting sports spectacle than someone showing up for another day's work.

But I'm sure there are many people who hold nonstop work records that are as impressive as Ripken's.

There are women who have six or eight kids and can't afford nannies or sitters. Imagine what it's like to get up every morning ++ year after year to more diapers, bottles, peanut butter and jelly, -- burping, yowling, and spitting and kicking. And they don't even get to go to spring training for their stretch marks.

There are countless small businessmen like Max who have to open the store, shop, or office every day or they don't make any money. Or salesmen who have to get out and hustle day in and day out if they want to make a buck.

Why, not far from my office window is a dedicated street musician, a saxophone player, who shows up every day to play some of the most maddeningly awful and repetitious music ever to torture human ears. He could set a longevity record unless I hire a sharpshooter to do him in.

I'm sure there are dozens, hundreds or thousands of awesome work records that we never hear about because they don't bring tears to the eyes of sportswriters.

If you know about one of them, drop me a line at 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 60611. Or, if you are into computers, I can be reached on America Online under my nerd handle, which is Mike Royko.

Incidentally, Max's record ended when the sports bar craze began. Some of his customers demanded that he install two or three more TV sets.

Instead, he sold the place and retired. He always hated baseball.

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