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Ripken mulls tough decision

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 2000


This is springtime in September for Cal Ripken. We may be seeing an abbreviated farewell tour by the man who defined eternity in baseball.

He came back Friday. Not all the way back. He was the Orioles designated hitter, in the lineup for the first time in more than two months. He was absent more this season, 59 games, than he was in his entire career before 2000. He probably will DH the rest of the weekend before giving third base another try.

"It's almost like a spring training plan," Ripken said. "As DH, it gives me the opportunity to separate the game in half, the offensive and defensive side. Diving and hyperextending my back in the field got me in trouble the last time around."

The DH was created at a time when pitching had become so dominant that the Lords of the American League decided taking the bat out of the pitchers' hands and giving it to another hitter would generate more offense, restore excitement, fill more seats and bring in more money.

Its opponents will tell you that the DH has become the refuge of:

The one-dimensional player who once upon a time wouldn't have been allowed out of Triple-A for very long (does the name Dick Stuart ring a bell?).

The almost-over-the-hill guy getting a final fat paycheck. (This tradition predates the DH, as in Babe Ruth of the Boston Braves.)

So what are we to make of Ripken, baseball's most durable player, riding the bench until his place in the batting order comes around again?

He is 40. Until this season he never had been a designated hitter. He was batting .239 with 13 homers and 43 runs batted in before lower back pain got too severe for him to continue.

He says he is going to use this month to decide whether he will play next season. "By the end of September I want to be able to sit back and see where I am physically," he said. "I think I can still play. My skill is still there. I can still hit a 98-mph fastball. The bigger question for me is how the back is going to hold up, and I need the month of September to look at that."

If he can hit the 98-mph fastball but can't handle the 88-mph grounder, will he want to come back? If the Orioles would rather he said sayonara, can we envision Cal Ripken in a uniform other than Baltimore's, any more than we can imagine Tony Gwynn in one that doesn't read Padres across the front?

Would we want to?

MONEY BETTER SPENT: Arizona pitcher Todd Stottlemyre, completing the second year of a four-year, $32-million contract, is due back today after a 10-week absence caused by a damaged right elbow.

If he's knocked out of the lineup for a substantial time next season, he said, he might retire.

"I don't think I'll ever quit on myself," Stottlemyre said, "but if I show up at spring training next year, come out of the gate healthy and then something comes up where I got to sit for a few months, I'm probably going to walk away and allow (Diamondback owner Jerry Colangelo) to use the money to go out and get somebody who can pitch 220, 230 innings."

BRING ON THE POLYGRAPH: The Orioles pulled off a triple play Friday against the Indians when shortstop Melvin Mora purposely let a pop fly fall (he admitted it).

Said umpire John Shulock: "I don't feel like Mora let it drop intentionally."

In a related development, Pedro Martinez did not throw at Gerald Williams.

EVERYBODY WANTS TO GET INTO THE ACT: At the All-Star break, it appeared someone would be tearing up Mark McGwire's home run record at season's end. So where have all the home runs gone?

To Anaheim and Toronto.

A week ago, Tim Salmon hit his 30th of the year, joining Angels teammates Garret Anderson, Mo Vaughn and Troy Glaus with 30 or more, the first AL team to have four in a season.

The Rockies (four times), the Dodgers (twice) and the Braves did it. But not the Yankees of Murderer's Row, the power-laden A's of the '70s -- none in the AL did it.

Step aside, guys. You're not going to be alone much longer.

The Blue Jays' Carlos Delgado and Tony Batista long ago passed 30. And after both were shut out in Saturday's game, Brad Fullmer and Jose Cruz are poised at 28 apiece.

IT'S AMAZING THEY'RE IN FIRST PLACE: Seattle is winning despite, rather than because of, its 1-2 pitchers, Jamie Moyer and Aaron Sele.

Sele, 11-3 and an All-Star in the first half of the season, and Moyer, who won eight of nine starts at one point, have combined for 11 straight starts without a victory. Sele last won Aug. 10, Moyer July 24. They are 0-9 with a 9.53 earned-run average in those 11 starts.

FOUR WEEKS TO GO: Todd Helton is being asked what he would do if he was hitting .400 going into the final game of the season. Would he play, as Ted Williams did when he hit .406 in 1941, or sit it out?

"Buddy (Bell, the Rockies manager) never asks me if I want to play. He just decides. ... If he leaves it up to me, I want to play every day."

"We are certainly a better team with Todd in the lineup, but other guys have to get at-bats, and everybody needs some rest," Bell said.

Still, it is worth noting that Helton is batting .500 (36-for-72) the day after he has a complete day off -- scheduled days off, rainouts, rest or injury related.

The Rockies have two days off this month. The '41 Red Sox had eight days off -- plus a rainout -- in September.

THE LAST WORD: Ken Griffey was asked if Pedro Martinez ever hit him with a pitch: "Why would he do that?" Junior asked. "I'm 0-for-12 against him with five punchouts. If I ever get a hit off him we're going to stop the game and he is going to sign the ball for me."

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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