IN THE clubhouse, the Orioles occasionally play a game to
determine which player among them can take the most pain and
which one is the hardest to bruise. Of course, the game was
invented by Cal Ripken Jr. And guess who's the champ?
"The other night, 10 minutes before the start of the game, Rip
threw me down and stuck his knuckle in my ribs," Oriole pitcher
Ben McDonald said recently. "Then a couple guys jumped him and
dug their knuckles in his ribs. We had him pinned down. He was
yelling, 'No! No!' but he wouldn't give up. He'd rather die. The
next day, we compared ribs. I had three big bruises. He had one
tiny red spot."
McDonald laughed. "I can't wait till the Streak is over," he
said. "A bunch of us are going to get him down and pummel him.
But we still won't be able to hurt him--and he will not bruise."
Contrary to his teammate's claim, Ripken does bruise and even
feels pain. In fact, there were two instances in the past 13
years when it appeared an injury might be serious enough to end
his run at Lou Gehrig's record.
On April 10, 1985, Ripken hobbled into the Greater Baltimore
Medical Center after spraining his left ankle in a game against
the Texas Rangers--Game 444 of the Streak. He had been covering
second on a pickoff play when his spikes caught on the bag; he
lost his balance and landed on the side of his ankle. "I heard a
pop, then there was tremendous pain," Ripken recalls.
He had stayed in the game but went to the trainer's room after
the inning and told trainer Richie Bancells, "Tape it as tight
as you can." It was the type of injury that sidelines most
players for two weeks. Ripken finished the game.
When he removed the tape afterward, Ripken watched his ankle
swell up like a blowfish. "His foot was big--I mean big," says
former Oriole pitcher Mike Flanagan, who was at the hospital at
the time, having his sore arm treated. "It was all black and
blue. I thought, No way he could play."
The next day, the Orioles had only an exhibition against the
Naval Academy. If not for that day off, the Streak surely would
have ended. Instead, Ripken spent the day at the hospital,
wearing an inflatable cast and taking other measures to stem the
swelling. After receiving more treatment the following day, he
spoke to team doctor Charles Silberstein about playing that
night against the Toronto Blue Jays. "If it's not broken," he
asked the doctor, "what possible damage could be done by
playing?" Silberstein replied, "It won't heal as quickly."
That was all Ripken needed to hear. He tested the ankle during
batting practice, it began to feel better and he played the
game. In the third inning, with two outs and a runner at third,
he beat out an infield grounder, driving home a run.
Close call number 2 came on June 6, 1993, during a brawl with
the Seattle Mariners at Camden Yards in Game 1,790 of the
Streak. When Seattle's Bill Haselman charged the mound after
being hit by a Mike Mussina pitch, Ripken raced in from
shortstop to protect his pitcher. As a second wave of players
approached the mound, Ripken turned, the grass gave out
underneath his feet and he heard his right knee pop. He was
knocked flat on his back with "a thousand pounds of guys on top
of me." He knew the knee was hurt, but he didn't know how badly.
Of course, he finished the game.
"The next morning I got out of bed and almost fell down," he
says. "It was stiff and sore. I couldn't even walk on it. I
said, 'Whoa, this is more serious than I thought.' At that
point, there was no way I could play in the game that night."
He called Bancells for advice and then iced the knee. He was
sure the Streak was over. Just before noon, he called his
father, Cal Ripken Sr., who knows a little about tolerating
pain. (Once, while pitching batting practice, Cal Sr. took a
line drive off his forehead. Bancells raced to the mound to see
if he was O.K., only to be greeted by Cal Sr. with "What the
hell are you doing out here? Get out of here!") "I didn't ask
him to come over," Cal Jr. recalls, "but it seemed like as soon
as I hung up the phone, he and my mom were at my house. I sat on
the porch with my father. We didn't talk about the injury or the
Streak. I'd ice my knee, then walk down the driveway. They
walked with me. I felt it loosen up."
He still didn't think he could play that night. When he got to
the ballpark, he worked out alone in the tunnel under the
stands. "I didn't want anyone watching, in case it didn't look
good," says Ripken. When the game began, he was at shortstop.
"Early on I got a topspin two-hopper in the hole and had to
plant my right leg and throw. A fast guy was running--forget who
he was--but I threw him out. I knew then I was O.K."
Those were the only two nights in 13 years that the Streak was
in jeopardy because of an injury. Naturally, there have been
assorted aches and pains; he has been hit by pitches 45 times
during the Streak, including a few dings on the helmet. One
time, a Kirk McCaskill fastball deflected off Ripken's hand and
hit him flush on the chin, cutting it badly.
In the first game ever played at Camden Yards, a 1992 exhibition
against the Mets, Ripken hurt his back. He spent a couple of
hours after the game getting treatment. "We had an exhibition
game the next day in Washington," remembers Oriole coach Elrod
Hendricks. "It was rainy. The field was in awful shape. When I
got there, Rip was already there. A stupid exhibition! He played
In 1991, after catching his spikes and rolling his ankle on the
artificial turf in Toronto, Ripken had Bancells teach him how to
tape his own ankles. "No one else has ever asked me," says
Bancells, laughing. "He drives me nuts. I'm teaching him, and
he's asking me, 'Why do you put tape there? Why do you do that
to the heel?' I said, 'I don't know, Rip, that's the way they
taught me in school.' I even had to show him how the ankle
works. He has to know everything."
Toughness and lots of tape have helped Ripken avoid injuries,
but so has his surprising natural strength. "I can lift more
weight than he can," Oriole outfielder Brady Anderson says, "but
if he gets me in one of his bear hugs, I can't get free."
Ripken's thick legs might be the strongest part of his body.
It's the base runner who usually takes the punishment when he
slams into Ripken at second.
Did he ever get hurt as a kid? "Not that I can think of,"
brother Billy says. Well, according to Ripken's former coach at
Aberdeen High, Don Morrison, there was the time that Ripken,
then a short and skinny freshman shortstop, jumped for a throw
from the catcher on a steal attempt and the runner plowed into
him. Ripken held on to the ball for the out but had the wind
knocked out of him. Morrison went running out to see Ripken, who
was barely able to speak.
Ripken looked at his coach and gasped, "Don't take me out."
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: JERRY WACHTER (2) BURIED IN THE MARINER MELEE, RIPKEN GOT HURT BUT PLAYED ON. [Cal Ripken Jr. batting; Cal Ripken Jr. held down under several other baseball players]