Ripken, Cal, Jr. (1960—)

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Ripken, Cal, Jr. (1960—)

Cal Ripken, Jr., is the person more responsible for the resurgent popularity of baseball in the 1990s than any other individual. His pursuit of Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played record became the focus of national attention in 1995. In addition, his calm, good-natured, "average guy" demeanor and clear understanding of his place in history has made him a favorite of millions of baseball fans around the world.

Ripken was born August 24, 1960 in Havre de Grace, Maryland, and grew up in nearby Aberdeen, Maryland. He attended Aberdeen High School, earning All-County and All-State honors. Ripken was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the second round (48th overall) of the 1978 baseball draft. He rose quickly though the Orioles' minor league system, starting the 1982 the season as the Orioles' third baseman and moving to shortstop in June. That same year he was voted the American League Rookie of the Year. The next season, he was selected as the American League's Most Valuable Player (MVP) and he played on the winning team in the 1983 World Series.

Ripken continued to demonstrate his abilities as a player throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1990, he compiled a string of 95 consecutive games without an error that set a major league record for shortstops. In the same year, he set records for fewest errors by a shortstop (3) and highest fielding percentage by a shortstop (.996). In 1991, Ripken became the second player in major league history to be named the league's MVP, Major League Player of the Year (by Sporting News, Associated Press, and Baseball Digest), All-Star Game MVP, and winner of a Gold Glove in the same season (the other being Maury Wills in 1962). He became the first shortstop ever to hit 20 or more home runs in ten consecutive seasons, and led American League shortstops in fielding percentage for the second straight year.

Although Ripken would have been considered one of the greatest shortstops in the history of baseball without breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played record, it was that honor that ensured his place in baseball history. The excitement surrounding Ripken's "streak" was particularly important for baseball because of labor problems during the mid-1990s; baseball players went on strike in late 1994, resulting in the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. The strike continued into the start of the 1995 season, and fans were becoming increasingly disillusioned with both the players and the owners. When baseball finally resumed, attendance for most teams was down a whopping 25 percent or more, and independent estimates put the total lost revenue at nearly $700 million over the two-year span. With predictions of continued fan disenchantment and lost revenue continuing to build, Ripken changed everything.

Ripken had not missed a game since the 1983 season, and on September 6, 1995, he played in his 2,131st consecutive game, breaking the record established by Lou Gehrig in 1939. Baseball fans around the world tuned in on television to watch Ripken play in the historic game, and he capped off the record-breaking event by hitting the game-winning home run. Fans found their interest revitalized, and attendance at the ballparks began to rebound. Ripken was chosen by the Associated Press and United Press International as Male Athlete of the Year, by the Sporting News as Major League Player of the Year, and by Sports Illustrated as Sportsman of the Year.

Even after breaking Gehrig's record, Ripken continued to play every game of every season. In 1996, The Streak reached 2,216 games, surpassing the world record for consecutive games played set by Sachio Kinusaga of Japan. In 1997 Ripken moved from shortstop to third base, but The Streak continued. On September 20, 1998, The Streak finally ended at 2,632 when Ripken chose to sit out a game. Over the 15-plus years of The Streak, the Baltimore Orioles used 289 other players, had 32 different coaches, and 8 different managers. At the time The Streak ended, Ripken had played in 502 more consecutive games than Gehrig and over twice as many as the player in third place, Everett Scott.

Although The Streak may be what most people remember about Ripken, it is certainly not his only achievement. Ripken has been named to the Associated Press Major League All-Star Team six times, the American League All-Stars 13 times, and the Sporting News American League All-Star Team seven times. He has also received nine Silver Slugger Awards for being the most productive offensive shortstop in baseball, and he has won two American League Gold Gloves at shortstop. Ripken owns records for fewest errors in a season by a shortstop, most career home runs as a shortstop, and most consecutive games without an error. He is a lock to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of the greatest players ever at his position.

—Geoff Peterson

Further Reading:

Gutman, B. Cal Ripken, Jr.: Baseball's Iron Man. Brookfield, Connecticut, Millbrook Press, 1998.

Joseph, P. Cal Ripken, Jr. Edina, Minnesota, Abdo & Daughters, 1997.

Rosenfeld, H. Iron Man: The Cal Ripken, Jr., Story. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1995.