I wanted to say a few words about Cal Ripken Jr. I'm very passionate about sports and Cal is one of my all-time favorite figures in the history of American sports. He's being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame
this weekend on the 3rd highest ballot in HOF history and the highest for a position player
. So a tribute is quite fitting.
So why do I love Cal Ripken?
Let's get the biggie out of the way. "The Streak." 2,632 consecutive games played. May 30th, 1982 through September 19th, 1998.
On September 9th, 1995 I remember watching the game in which Ripken passed Lou Gehrig to become baseball's all-time Iron Man. I remember him hitting the home run that drove me insane and I remember his victory lap around Camden Yards. It's a very fond memory for me.
Now, some people say "The Streak" is an overrated record. Even Cal himself admits that playing in 2,632 consecutive games requires a bit of luck. After all, the Orioles never had anyone better to play at shortstop or third from 1982 through 1998. But in no way do I think it's an overrated record. If 2,632 means anything to me, it's a testament to the fact that Ripken simply could not see himself not playing baseball for the Baltimore Orioles. From May 1982 through September 1998 if the Orioles were going to be playing...Ripken wanted to be out there playing for them. 2,632 is a testament of passion as much as it is a testament of endurance or luck. And that's why it means so much to me.
Ripken is the epitome of the hometown kid. Get this folks...Ripken grew up, went to school, started his career, reached international acclaim, retired and started up his own business within the same 40 mile radius. That blows my mind.
And then they are all the great Ripken stories and tidbits that aren't often spread around...
From 1982 through 1987 Ripken set another streak that is little-known and not, technically, an official record. He played in 8,243 consecutive innings. Major league baseball doesn't keep track of such things and although it's commonly accepted nobody else ever played in more consecutive innings, it's not an official record. It was his father, Cal Ripken Sr, who pulled him out of the game. Story is he came out of the game filling disoriented and out-of-sorts. A teammate sat him down and jokingly "welcomed" him to the bench. It was a place he'd hardly ever see in his entire career.
Cal also played in the longest game in professional baseball history. The famous 33 inning epic Rochester Red Wings vs. Pawtucket Red Sox game. And of course, being The Iron Man...he played all 33 innings at third base.
Cal's final game on October 6th, 2001 was Ripken's 3,001st career game. During a pregame speech, Mike Flanagan stated that three thousand and one was a massive representation of Cal's mentality. I agree.
My favorite Ripken infield move? Making a diving stop to rob a base hit then throwing to first from his knees in time to get the force out at first. He turned 1,682 double plays, often in that fashion, second most of any baseball player ever.
Ripken's statue to be erected outside of Camden Yards will feature him leaning on a baseball bat. Why? Because Ripken was always experimenting with new stances. Ripken wasn't complacent. Far from it. Ripken was always trying to push his form to new places.
And unlike so many other rich people in the public eye, Ripken has used his millions well. He brought a successful minor league team to his hometown (the Aberdeen IronBirds) and is famed for his appearances at the ballpark...and not just meandering about...but often helping in the concession stand. He's created a foundation (Ripken Baseball) to make it so kids could get the baseball opportunities that he was fortunate to have himself and that helps fund research for, believe it or not, Lou Gehrig's Disease.
And then they are the numbers...400+ homers, 3,000+ hits, over 36 million All-Star votes (#1 all-time), eight Silver Slugger Awards, two Golden Gloves, two AL MVP awards and a World Series ring.
But Ripken is above and beyond numbers.
It is said that Ripken's 2,131st game, recently voted by the fans as the most memorable moment in baseball history, brought the game out of the dark, post-strike atmosphere that was looming in 1995. It reminded people that they were still people like Cal playing the game. In this time of inflated payrolls and juiced home runs...baseball could really use another Cal.
Which makes it too bad that he's a true original. For he is the one and only Cal Ripken Jr.