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CARL RIPKEN Jr to retire after this season

BALTIMORE (AP) _ The decision gnawed at Cal Ripken for weeks until he decided there was no reason to avoid the inevitable.

Ripken, who played in more consecutive games than anyone in baseball history, said Monday night he will retire after this season.

``It's something that Cal has been working through and agonizing over. There's been a lot of thought, but the timing just felt right,'' Ripken spokesman John Maroon said.

Ripken, who turns 41 in August, revealed his decision earlier in the day to The Washington Post.

``It's inevitable that you can't play forever,'' the Baltimore third baseman told the Post. ``I've maximized my window of opportunity as well as anyone. (Baseball) has given me a lot of joy and happiness and satisfaction. I'm proud of what I've been able to do.''

Ripken's most notable accomplishment was playing in 2,632 straight games from May 30, 1982 to Sept. 20, 1998, when he voluntarily ended the streak. At the time, Ripken said he chose to sit down because he feared his Iron Man run was a distraction to the Orioles.

His passion for the team he grew up rooting for, and the one his father once managed and coached, also played a role in Ripken's decision to retire after his 21st season, all with Baltimore. He was reduced to a part-time role this year because of the team's transition toward youth.

``He has a great deal of respect with the way the Orioles are going about their business,'' Maroon said. ``He sees the team rebuilding, and he doesn't want to inhibit their progress.''

Ripken's desire to spend more time with his family and to further involve himself in a youth baseball facility in his hometown of Aberdeen, Md., were also factors.

Ripken agonized over the decision, which he initially arrived at weeks ago. But he delayed making an announcement, just in case he changed his mind.

A few more weeks of bench time, in addition to his failure to lift his average over .220, solidified his conviction.

``It was time to just say, `Yeah, I'm retiring,''' Maroon said.

Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's seemingly unbreakable record of 2,130 consecutive games on Sept. 6, 1995. In the days leading to that day, he was honored in baseball cities throughout the country. When he broke the record, the celebration became a national event.

Ripken spoke this spring about his disdain for a possible farewell tour, but that now appears inevitable. He decided it might not be a bad thing.

``He's looking at it like 1995,'' Maroon said. ``I think rather than fight it, he's thinking, `Let me enjoy the last few months of my career and see what happens.'''

Ripken is hitting .210 this year, with four homers and 25 RBIs. At least he's been healthy _ he played in a combined 169 games the previous two seasons because of a bad lower back.

He is defined by his consecutive games streak, but Ripken is also one of seven players in major league history with 3,000 hits (3,107) and 400 home runs (421).

Ripken's final chance to play at home would be Sept. 23 against the New York Yankees. The Orioles finish the season Sept. 30 at Yankee Stadium.

By 9 a.m., 75 people were in line at Camden Yards hoping to buy tickets for the game. At 9:30 an announcement over the public address system alerted those on line that tickets for the final two games at Camden Yards were completely sold out. However, standing room only tickets, which are sold on the day of the game, are still available, box office personnel said.

Fans, meanwhile, expressed gratitude for Ripken's longevity.

``I guess it was not unexpected,'' said Bob Hahm of Westminster. ``What he did for baseball is truly amazing.''

Hahm, stopped on the street in Annapolis, where he works, said he was not saddened by the news.

``This is one of those things in life. Life goes on,'' Hahm said.

Ripken has said he wants to run a major league organization, similar to the way Michael Jordan has become the president and part owner of the NBA's Washington Wizards.

``I want to be able to test my philosophies about a whole organization,'' he told the Post. ``I've gathered a lot of information. ... I've kept my eyes open and watched the evolution of baseball. And I would love at some point to have the opportunity to test those philosophies.''

Ripken was the American League rookie of the year in 1982 and was selected league MVP in 1983 and 1991. He won a World Series championship with the Orioles in 1983.

In 1990, Ripken set a record for shortstops with a .996 fielding percentage, making just three errors in 161 games. He moved to third base in 1997.

In 1999, Ripken and Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs were selected as the shortstops for baseball's ``All-Century'' team.

Ripken, who regularly signs autographs before games at home and on the road, has often spoken about his love for fans of the game.

They love him back. Despite his poor batting average and part-time status, Ripken leads all AL third basemen in voting for the All-Star game.
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