To be absolutely perfect, maybe The Streak needed one final punch in the nose. Perhaps Roberto Hernandez’s clumsy feet and flying forearm have finally given Cal Ripken’s consecutive-game feat the only element it lacked: humanity.
Those who have called Ripken an Iron Man for the past 15 seasons have done his courage and determination a serious injustice. The person who has played in 2,239 consecutive games is not made out of iron or any other indestructible material. If some klutz loses his balance during the American League team photograph at the All-Star Game and accidentally belts Ripken in the face, his nose breaks, just like anybody else’s, and the blood gushes, too. The difference, of course, is that, 2 hours later, Ripken is still in the starting lineup and says, “I wouldn’t give it a second thought.”
Now, thanks to Hernandez, the world may finally sense how much those foul balls hurt when they smash into Ripken’s feet and how often the takeout slides at second base leave him bruised, not to mention the pain of all the fastballs that have nailed him since 1982. For that matter, perhaps all of us who have taken pleasure from Ripken’s play for so many years should take 1 minute to think of all the colds, household accidents and just-plain-rotten days that every human has in 15 years. Ripken’s body might not be made of iron, but some part of his personality must be.
“We were taking the team picture. Roberto stepped on the platform and it tilted. He threw his arm back to catch his balance and hit my nose. It was a pretty vicious backhand,” said Ripken, who was in the starting lineup less than 2 hours later, although with gauze stuffed up his nose. “He made it crooked and they popped it back in. … I don’t think it was ever that straight, but it’s straighter than it was a half-hour ago. I’ll probably have a couple of black eyes tomorrow.”
Yes, it’s hard to believe, hard to grasp almost as The Streak itself, that Ripken suffered the first broken bone of his life. He wasn’t hit by a line drive during batting practice, although a thousand have whizzed past him over the years. A bad hop in infield practice didn’t jump up at his face, though countless stray rocks have tried to nail him over the years. He didn’t catch a spike in an old AstroTurf seam as he was practicing a double play.
No, Hernandez, who has thrown 98 mph fastballs just inches from Ripken for years, drilled him by accident. Of course, Hernandez could have rearranged the features of the player standing on his right - Joe Carter - and every baseball fan here in Philadelphia, remembering Mitch Williams’s last pitch of the 1993 World Series, would have cheered him for it. Instead, he became a footnote to All-Star history by toppling to his left.
“I’m glad it was my forearm and not my elbow because it would have been a lot worse if it was my elbow,” Hernandez said.
“I offered him my shirt to help stop the bleeding. … I got more nervous and panicky. Robbie (Alomar) and Brady (Anderson) offered to get me a bodyguard when I go to Baltimore. I said, ‘Get me the best, I’m going to need it.’ ” All of baseball, not just Hernandez, was relieved when Ripken returned to the field, traces of smeared blood on his upper lip, to take ground balls and a round of batting practice.
“Once he came (back) out, I said, ‘All right, the streak is still alive,”’ Hernandez said.
Actually, The Streak would have stayed alive whether Ripken had played in this game or not. The record is for consecutive regular season games and is not influenced by preseason, postseason or All-Star Games, just as a hitting streak could not end in an All-Star Game.
Ripken could not miss the irony of his being hurt in so tame an activity. “I play basketball in the off-season and it’s normal to get hit in the nose,” said Ripken. “This is the first time I’ve broken it, though it’s not the first time I’ve had it checked.”