Paul Molitor of the Toronto Blue Jays, who put together a 39-game hitting streak when he was with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1987, remembers, "There was more of a focus on whether I was going to get a hit than there was on whether we would win the game. I'd be 0 for 2 or whatever and find myself sitting on the bench worrying about getting a hit."
Ripken's streak is reminiscent of Roger Maris's pursuit of Babe Ruth's home run record in 1961 because, though Maris's bid was not literally a streak, it produced a daily watch and Maris received a lot of negative press. While chasing Ruth's sacred record, Maris lost his hair in clumps. During a trip to Baltimore in September, he also found the need for separate housing and stayed at the home of Oriole outfielder Whitey Herzog. Several days later he told Yankee manager Ralph Houk, "I need a day off. I can't stand it anymore."
"Roger had only joined the team the year before," says Yankee radio announcer Tony Kubek, who was a teammate of Maris's in 1961, "so he wasn't really known as a Yankee. A lot of people rooted for Mickey [Mantle] to get the record or for Ruth to keep it. But I think Roger realized later more people were on his side than not. Like Cal, Roger wasn't thinking of the record. He just wanted to play the game and play it right."
The difference with Ripken is that he is digging bunkers with years left to break the record. "The game has a lot of Hall of Fame players," says Shapiro, "but there's only one streak. He's a target of the collectors who are betting on the streak and the value of his signature going up."
Last year a pair of collectors staking out the Orioles' hotel carried walkie-talkies SD they could cover Ripken coming or going through cither of two entrances. People tailed him when he took taxis, with Ripken giving orders to his driver to lose the trailing car. It was "like a chase scene in a movie," says teammate Brady Anderson, who sat in on one such ride. Ripken would check into the Orioles' hotel under an assumed name, but by the second day it would become known. What really shook Ripken was the time he left his room at 12:30 a.m. to go to the ice machine. Suddenly two men jumped out from beside the machine, and for an instant Ripken feared for his safety. "There was a security risk there," says Ripken of the two men who apparently were just trying to catch a glimpse of him. "I felt like I needed to deal with it."
Ripken checked with several teammates to see if they would oppose separate travel arrangements. None did. The front office—which is so buttoned-down it requires a player to wear a blazer at all times in public on the road—agreed to Ripken's request, though it would prefer that he bunk with the rest of the club. "We do recognize this is a special circumstance," president Larry Lucchino says. "We hope it's not permanent."
Says Oates, "I've never heard anyone complain about it." But he apparently is discounting the frequent daggers from media types like Tony Kornheiser of The Washington Post, who ridiculed Ripken's poor hitting by asking, "What's the excuse this year, the limo was late?" Ripken is so sensitive to such portrayals that by the third road trip of the 1993 season he stopped using Town Cars and began ordering van service.
"The worst part," Ripken says, "is you spend 11 years building a reputation as a team player, helping people out, and all of a sudden, because you stay at another hotel for other reasons, people take that away from you. Now you're selfish and putting yourself apart from the team. All you want to do is to be able to walk freely, without problems."
How badly is Ripken besieged? "I played with the Cubs, who because of WGN are popular everywhere," Sutcliffe says. "We'd have more people around the hotel in St. Louis for a three-game series than the Orioles have all year. I haven't talked to Cal about his reasons, but I know this is nothing like what Sandberg, Grace and those guys go through."
The difference, Ripken says, is he tires of constant talk of the streak. Also, he almost unfailingly grants autograph requests. Says Anderson, "He signs more autographs than any superstar I know. He doesn't know how to say no."