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Cal backs out of his chase

September 22, 1999

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - Cal Ripken will undergo back surgery today and miss the rest of the season, leaving him nine hits shy of 3,000 for his career.

"I feel bad that Cal's hurt because I wanted him to get 3,000 but he'll get it next year," Baltimore Orioles manager Ray Miller said Wednesday night.

Ripken traveled to Cleveland on Wednesday to visit specialist Dr. Henry Bohlman after experiencing back spasms overnight. He will have surgery there to relieve pressure on a nerve that has been causing him discomfort.

"He is in a lot of discomfort and felt that it was time to get it done," general manager Frank Wren said.

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Ripken played in 2,632 straight games before voluntarily ending the streak last September. This season, however, he twice was placed on the disabled list because of back pain, the first two trips to the DL over a sensational career that began in 1981.

"You expect him to come back and play well because of who he is," teammate Mike Timlin said. "It says a lot about the guy that he went this long without surgery. You see a guy in pain and yet continue to play at the level he was, you admire that. He's an iron guy."

The 39-year-old Ripken went on the disabled list on April 20 because of a bad back, missing three weeks, and returned to DL shortly after experiencing back pain Aug. 1.

"To have it reoccur was disappointing and frustrating. I was down for a long time," he said recently.

Ripken returned on Sept. 1 and hit his 400th career homer the following day. He has since been on a binge at the plate, upping his batting average to a career-high .340. He appeared on his way to joining Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs as the newest members of the 3,000-hit club. It would have been the first time three players reached the milestone in the same season.

Getting there in 1999 was not a priority for Ripken, who has always put personal accomplishments behind team goals.

"If 3,000 hits happen, it happens. But it hasn't been a goal to do it in a certain period of time and it hasn't been a goal to do it in a certain year," he said the night he hit his 400th homer. "You just play, and things happen when they happen."

But because the Orioles long ago dropped out of contention, Ripken didn't have much to play for except personal goals - although Baltimore won its 13th straight Wednesday by beating Texas, 7-4.

"The true satisfaction out of the game of baseball is to win," Ripken said earlier this month. "It's a whole lot more fun playing on a winner and having a chance to go to the playoffs. It's been a frustrating season in that regard."

Probably not nearly as frustrating as the time he's missed because of back pain.

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