An Introduction to the Legends of Baseball
| Hank Aaron
| Yogi Berra
| Ty Cobb
| Joe DiMaggio
Lou Gehrig | Rogers Hornsby | Mickey Mantle | Willie Mays | Stan Musial | Cal Ripken Jr
Jackie Robinson | Pete Rose | Babe Ruth | Ted Williams | Cy Young | The Baseball Hall of Fame
I know that if Lou Gehrig is looking down on tonight's activities, he isn't concerned about someone playing one more consecutive game than he did. Instead, he's viewing tonight as just another example of what is good and right about the great American game.
- Cal Ripken, 6 September, 1995
Cal Ripken is one of baseball's most recognisable modern icons as well as being one of its best shortstops. His most famous sporting achievement is to have played the most consecutive Major League games, which passed Lou Gehrig's old record of 2,130 on 6 September, 1995. His new record stands at 2,632 consecutive games out of 3,001 total career games. He played for the Baltimore Orioles for 21 years from 1981 to 2001, winning two MVP awards and playing in 17 All-Star Games. He is known as one of the games most consistent ever players.
He was deemed the 'New Iron Horse' after he proved to be every bit as consistent and iron as the first 'Iron Horse' Lou Gehrig. In fact, his consistency of play was probably much harder to maintain than Gehrig's. He played short stop most of his career, which is one of the most difficult fielding positions. Travelling around the world, to Canada and farther west also made Ripken's record more difficult to achieve.
His Life and Career
Born 24 August, 1960 in Havre de Grace, Maryland, Cal Ripken Jr was involved in baseball from an early age. His father, Cal Ripken Sr was a manager and coach in the major leagues and taught his son baseball, which Cal Jr was immediately interested in. He was first recruited as a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles in 1981, but settled in third base in 1982. That year, he hit a .264 batting average, 28 homers and 93 RBI. He won the American League Rookie of the Year award.
In his second year, 1983, he hit even better than in his Rookie year, recording a .318 batting average and 102 RBI. He also led the league in hits with 211. He won the American League's Most Valuable Player that year, making him the first to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in consecutive years. The Orioles advanced to the 1983 World Series, which Ripken helped them win - for the first time since 1970.
30 May, 1982 Ripken started his record streak with 8,243 consecutive innings or 908 games without missing an inning. It ended 14 September, 1987 after he was removed in the eight inning by his father1. As a shortstop, Ripken became known as a great defensive force. He was the league leader in assists in 1983, '84, '86 and '87. He was clearly the best shortstop hitter, leading the major league shortstops in Home Runs, RBI and runs scored for many years.
Ripken showed a drive to succeed. He was known as an excellent fielder, and only got better with time. In 1990, his fielding percentage was .996, committing only three errors in 161 games and he went 95 games without committing an error that season. Although 1990 was arguably his best fielding season, he was not awarded the shortstop's Gold Glove award.
His 1991 season was also very strong. He came in first in bases stolen and home runs, and second that year in doubles, slugging percentage and hits. He won the American League MVP that year and was sent to the All-Stars game. There he hit a home run with two on base. He also won the 1991 Gold Glove award. After one of his strongest batting seasons in 1991, Ripken had one of his worst for hitting in 1992, he only hit a .251 average, 14 home runs and 72 RBI. His fielding stayed the same or got better though, and he was awarded the Gold Glove that year again.
The Most Consecutive Games Played Record
Around 1993 or 1994, more and more people noticed how close Ripken was coming to one of the most important records in baseball - most consecutive games played. People who knew baseball had never believed that Lou Gehrig's 'Iron Man' record could ever be broken, but Ripken was edging ever closer to it and already owned one of the most impressive streaks baseball had ever seen. Still, many thought that Ripken could never top Gehrig's 2,130 game record.
In 1994, a long players' strike threatened to kill Ripken's record chase by fielding replacement players. But Ripken wasn't the only one who wanted to keep the streak going. The Baseball Players Union would let Ripken join replacement games just to keep the streak going. The replacement player games never took place. Even if they had, Ripken would not have had to participate (and later he said that he wouldn't). Orioles owner Peter Angelos stated that in order to protect Ripken's streak his team wouldn't bring out a replacement team even if every other team in the American League did.
On 5 September, 1995 Ripken played his 2,130th consecutive game, tying Lou Gehrig's record. The stadium was crowded with 46,804 fans. In the fifth inning2, the ten foot tall letters standing above right field in Orioles Park at Camden Yards flipped over to reveal the numbers 2-1-3-0 and the celebrations started with a standing ovation lasting over five minutes. In the game, and the following game where he would break the record, special baseballs were used bearing Ripken's name. The Orioles also built several new box seats especially for the games.
Ripken hit three times, one of which was a home run. He also threw in the last out of an 8-0 win for the Orioles. After the game, he said-
I don't know how everyone else feels, but I'm exhausted. I'm even considering taking a few weeks off.
On 6 September, Ripken finally established a new record. He took a lap around the stadium in a 22 minute break at the top of the fifth inning (when the record became official). He hit a home run in the game and helped the Orioles to a 4-2 victory. In 2002, Mastercard marked it as their most memorable moment of baseball.
On 14 June, 1996 Ripken's 2,216th consecutive game (in a 6-1 win at Kansas City), set a new consecutive games world record. The previous mark of 2,215 had been held by third baseman Sachio Kinugasa of the Hiroshima Carp in Japan's Central League.
No point in his career would be as important as 6 September, 1995 but he continued his streak for a long time after. On 15 July, 1996 Ripken was moved to third base when the Orioles decided that Manny Alexander might be a good shortstop. It ended yet another of his records, the most consecutive starts as a shortstop with 2,216 games. After only six games, Ripken was moved back to shortstop. That year, when the players of the All Stars game were being photographed, pitcher Roberto Hernandez lost his balance and struck Ripken, breaking his nose. Ripken played anyway, of course.
In 1997, Ripken was moved to third base permanently where he performed quite well defensively, but recorded a career low .270 batting average. With the newly acquired Mike Bordick as shortstop, the Orioles functioned better and made it to the League championship games for the first time since 1987. They repeated the feat the following year, but again failed to advance to the World Series.
In 1998, Ripken's strength as a player was doubted as he only hit 14 homers, 61 RBI and .271 batting average. Many thought that he should retire, or at the least take a couple of weeks off. On 20 September, 1998 Ripken told his manager just before the game that he wouldn't be playing and his streak officially ended at 2,632. When Ryan Minor played third base, almost no one in the stands knew what was happening. But as soon as Ripken appeared at the top of the dugout steps he received a standing ovation.
In 1999, Cal Ripken Sr, the third baseman's father died of lung cancer less than two weeks before the baseball season began. This, coupled with the fact that around the same time, Ripken developed strong back pains contributed to Ripken having a bad start to the season. It was almost impossible for him to field a ball or hit without pain. In April, he was put on the disabled list for the first time in his career. Although still a fan favourite, Ripken was encouraged to retire.
Instead, Ripken came off the disabled list as strong as he was in his 1987 and 1991 seasons. Despite having 28 games in August and 13 of the last games in the season off, Ripken played well and consistently. He hit a .340 batting average and a .584 slugging average - both career highs. He might have been able to set records in home runs, RBI and hits if he had played more games that year. Strangely, the death of Ripken Sr may have helped Ripken Jr do extra well this season. This was largely because the loss of his father (who had been his closest hitting advisor) was thought to have left him more receptive to the advice of the Orioles hitting coach.
The crowning moment of the 1999 season was on 13 June. Ripken became the first Oriole to hit six times in one game, two of which were home runs. In September 1999 he reached another two milestones, Ripken hit his 400th career home run and made his 324th double play, (giving him the Major League record for double plays). On 15 April, 2000 Ripken made his 3,000th career hit.
By June 2001 it was reported that Ripken would retire by the end of the season. 1 July, 2001 was celebrated as Cal Ripken day, and the honouree hit three times, helping the Orioles win 11-3. He was elected into the All Star Game in 2001 and given the honours of Most Valuable Player of the game.
Ripken retired from Baseball on 6 October, 2001. Since then, he has built a stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland which is where he used to play baseball when he was younger and is a part owner of the team, the Aberdeen IronBirds - an Orioles minor league team. He has also contributed a large amount of money to research for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or 'Lou Gehrig's Disease'. He is an obvious choice for the Baseball Hall of Fame and is eligible for induction in 2006.
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