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Honoring Lou Gehrig


Of all the CALebrations last week, none was more touching than the creation of a Cal Ripken Jr./Lou Gehrig Fund to finance research at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions on the degenerate nerve disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, that killed the legendary Yankee player more than half a century ago. The Orioles under owner Peter Angelos conceived the plan to sell 260 field-level seats at $5,000 apiece to raise $1.3 million. Then the baseball club promised to kick in another $700,000 to push the fund to the $2 million mark.

Quite by chance, the Ripken-Gehrig endowment at Hopkins coincides this year with important breakthroughs in treating "Lou Gehrig's Disease." Next week the Federal Drug Administration will be asked to approve a new drug, riluzole, which for the first time appears successful in slowing the release of a substance that, in excess, damages the brain cells that control movement.

At Hopkins, some 30 researchers and clinicians make up the largest group in the world working on ALS and related diseases. Dr. Jeffrey Rothstein, associate professor of neurology, notes that with the help of the Ripken-Gehrig Fund, he and his associates will have greater resources to go after the National Institutes of Health grants that are essential to further progress in fighting the disease.

Mr. Angelos long wanted to do something positive and appropriate for the occasion when Cal Ripken broke the Gehrig record for consecutive games played. But he also did not want to be premature lest he jinx his star shortstop. Only weeks before the Sept. 6 event, a close friend, businessman Richard McCready, told him how his mother had died of ALS. Thus the idea was born.

In view of Hopkins' preeminence in ALS research, the Orioles organization added the fund drive to its phenomenal program for promoting Cal Ripken's big moment. Streak Week, which even included three Ripken home runs in the three games culminating in the record-breaker, drew world attention to Baltimore and made this region feel very good about its super-star from Aberdeen -- and about itself. For this, Mr. Angelos deserves a lot of credit.

Citizens who wish to contribute to a worthy cause should send their checks to the Cal Ripken/Lou Gehrig Fund, c/o Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine, Reed Hall, 1620 McElderry Street, Baltimore, Md., 21205-1911.

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