You'd be a moron to pass up the chance to replace Cal Ripken in the lineup the day The Streak ends, Bill Ripken said the other day. Should his big brother's run of consecutive games end in the near future, Bill Ripken just may get that opportunity, as a utility man for the Orioles.
Bill Ripken, 31, is going to spring training with the Orioles this year under a minor-league contract, in the hopes of making the major-league team as a utility man and rejoining the club that let him go after the 1992 season.
However, Bill doesn't see Cal's streak, currently at 2,153 games, ending any time soon. "I could see this thing going another five or six years," he said. "It would be great for me [to replace Cal], because that would mean I would be with the team for a couple of more years. . . . But I think before the streak ends, I'll already be retired."
Bill Ripken, primarily a second baseman in the majors, was the everyday shortstop last season for the Cleveland Indians' Triple-A Buffalo team, and there has been speculation within the organization that whenever The Streak ends for whatever reason, it would be apropos for Cal Ripken to be replaced by Bill.
Not that the matter has been discussed by the brothers Ripken. No, Bill said, he and Cal talk about a lot of stuff, none of which pertains to the record-setting streak. "We'd have to bring up the S-word," Bill said. "We don't talk about that."
Of more practical importance to Bill Ripken is making the Orioles, something he isn't taking for granted. He knows the Orioles have a glut of utility candidates -- himself, Jeff Huson and Man ny Alexander -- competing for one or two jobs and few at-bats.
Cal Ripken and second baseman Roberto Alomar rarely take days off. Johnson said in December he might use Bill Ripken occasionally at third, replacing the left-handed-hitting B. J. Surhoff against some left-handers.
No place like home
Bill Ripken is agreeable to that role or virtually any other. "If it leads to playing third base, fine," he said. "If it's something where they want me late in the game for defensive purposes, fine. I'm just going down there with the attitude that I'll do whatever they ask."
A couple of other teams had called after the 1995 season, including the Indians, who planned to give Ripken a chance to make their team as a utility man. Once Ripken heard the Orioles were serious about giving him another shot, he all but made his decision to return; he signed in late December.
Part of the lure for Ripken was Johnson's reputation for frequently using his bench players. But the primary factor was his desire to play at home again, in Maryland, with the Orioles, at Camden Yards, with Cal.
"This is where I'd much rather be," he said. "This is the best-case scenario for me, to make the team and stay at home. . . . I loved ZTC it here. I was treated very well the 5 1/2 years when I played here."
'95 return fell short
If he had his way, Bill Ripken would've been with the Orioles last year, as his brother broke Lou Gehrig's record. He heard the rumblings in early June that Orioles executives, dissatisfied with second basemen Alexander and Bret Barberie, were thinking about getting somebody else. Perhaps Bill Ripken.
But the Orioles decided against that, and Bill Ripken remained with Buffalo for the rest of the Triple-A season. The Bisons made the playoffs, scheduled to begin Sept. 6 -- the night Cal was to break Gehrig's record.
Bill thought about skipping the record-breaker. But friends and teammates told him he would be crazy to miss the game, and he asked for and received permission.
He arrived Sept. 5, shortly before Cal's record-tying game. He watched with mixed emotions that night.
"I would be lying if I didn't say I wanted to be out on the field with him," Bill Ripken said. "That would be a complete lie if I didn't say that. When I got there, I thought about what would happen if they would've then gotten me. That was kind of hard. After the first day, I realized it wasn't about me. It was about him and what he was accomplishing. That made it easier."
He didn't speak to Cal until the fourth inning of Game 2,131, when his brother came over to shake his hand and say hi before batting. "You might think I'm full of it on this one," Bill said, "but I was sitting next to his father-in-law, and I said, he's going deep [on this at-bat]. He picked up his video camera and said, 'Well I guess I better tape this.' He went deep."
He congratulated Cal during the fifth-inning celebration, and didn't talk to him again until after the game. Cal walked into the trainer's room at 1:40 a.m., uniform still on.
"I'm tired," Cal said resignedly.
Bill teased: "You need a day off because of that damn victory lap."
Buoyant Buffalo return
When Bill Ripken rejoined his Buffalo teammates, they overwhelmed him with their enthusiasm for the event.
"It meant so much to me when I went back there, and played in the playoffs in Buffalo, what my teammates were saying to me," he said. "They were just caught up in it. That's the biggest compliment Cal could have. Most of the players in Buffalo were in the big leagues before. They played against him, they know him. It was neat to hear players like that talk about it, how cool it must've been for me to be there. That's like the ultimate tribute."
Cal has gone from widely respected baseball player to something close to a national icon, and there are days, Bill acknowledges, that he feels a little sorry for his sibling. No matter where Cal goes, hands reaching out, folks asking for autographs or time.
"I don't know if I could handle it," Bill said, "all the demands, all the expectations people have for him. He's handled it just about as well as anybody. . . . There are times when you say, 'I'm glad I'm not him,' and then you catch yourself and say, 'What, am I nuts?'
6* "I'm just as happy being his brother."