Cal Ripken, Jr. – The Iron Man of Baseball!
On August 24th, 1960, a man who would soon become known as the Iron Man in Major League Baseball came into the world. This amazing shortstop and third baseman not only made a name for himself in the world of baseball, but he was also one of the most loyal players in all sports – playing his entire twenty-one year career with the Baltimore Orioles – never leaving their side for a moment in time.
Cal Ripken, Jr. has a great many things to be known for – one of the most-recognized is the fact that he was the man who broke Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played – which most fans said was a record that could and would never be beaten. But when the Iron Man appeared in his 2,131st consecutive game in 1995 in front of a sold-out crowd, fate was with him. He not only proved to that crowd who was routing for him with all their hearts that he would show up, but he also made sure to hit a home run in that historical game for all to see. In fact, fans were so elated that they named that game as the “Most Memorable Moment” in all of MLB history.
Over the next three years, Cal Ripken, Jr. continued to play – adding yet another five hundred and one straight games to his now-unbreakable record. Then in the 1998 season, he voluntarily removed his name from the Orioles line up and sent his baseball uniform into the hall of fame.
It is no surprise to any fan that Ripken was an All-Star nineteen times over his career and a member of the “3000 Hit Club.” In fact, he is still and will always be considered the best shortstop in the history of baseball, and he made sure to prove to everyone that large, tall players could succeed at the difficult position. Ripken was the ultimate pioneer for the sport of baseball, and when his uniform was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, he had the highest voting percentage of almost any player that was ever invited into the Hall (Only Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan had outdone him).
The Iron Man was not only a supreme baseball player and king of the shortstop position, but he also went on to become a bestselling author, and formed Ripken Baseball, Inc. – an organization that was begun to establish the love of the game from a “grassroots level.” But this man – as always – decided that all that was still not enough and he focused on: Ripken Management and Design, Youth Camps and Clinics, The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, and Ripken Professional Baseball, which houses three minor-league teams affiliated with the Orioles, the San Francisco Giants, and the Tampa Bay Rays.
In a look back at his most fabulous moments, readers must begin in 1981 and 1982, when Ripken was a member of the Orioles Triple-A Farm Club called the Rochester Red Wings, and was a member of the longest baseball game ever played. Ripken played all thirty-three innings in a historic game that took three days to complete, and went on to make his big-league debut during a “strike year.”
Playing in both the shortstop and third base positions, it didn’t take long for the Iron Man to become popular, and bring millions of fans to his side. In fact, Ripken’s beginning was much like a fairy-tale – as he hit a home run on his very first time at bat. He wasn’t done, of course, Ripken hit another twenty-eight home runs that year and won the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award for his outstanding debut! And on May 30, 1982, Ripken began his golden-run for the most consecutive games ever played in the history of baseball.
His history reads like the “perfect resume.” In 1983, Ripken earned the first of his All-Star berths and was named the American League’s MVP. The Orioles went on to defeat the Philadelphia Phillies four games to one in the 1983 World Series, with Ripken producing some seriously significant plays on the defensive side of the ball.
In 1987, it was the Ripken “family” year as Cal Ripken, Sr. became the manager of the Orioles, and was able to place two of his own sons into his team’s lineup. (Billy Ripken was the other pride and joy for the manager)
In 1991, the Iron Man had just missed out on a Gold Glove the year before, but in 1991 he had a banner year that every baseball uniform in the future (and past) would’ve killed for. From hitting triples to stealing the most bases; to having the lowest strikeout rate and lowest number of strikeouts, Ripken’s 1991 season went down in history as the fourth-greatest in baseball history. This is also the year he won his MVP award, the Gold Glove Award, the All-Star Game MVP Award, and more fans that even Babe Ruth had during his historic career.
It was also a bit of a tear-jerker that year. As the 1991 season came to an end, Memorial Stadium – the home of the Orioles since 1954 – hosted its last game. For this, Ripken was the last Oriole to bat at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, hitting a double play. 1993 saw even more triumphs for the Iron Man, when Ripken achieved his 2,000th career hit. And 1995 brought to him his victory over Gehrig’s record playing streak.
That game between the Orioles and the Angels still ranks as one of the most watched baseball games in history. Everyone in attendance, including the other team’s players, gave a standing ovation that lasted almost thirty minutes – honoring the man as he turned from player to legend with one hit. There were no commercial breaks on television as Ripken did a lap around the entire Camden Yards track to shake hands and give high-fives to all of his beloved fans. This very humble man showed it to one and all as this brand new superstar was literally shoved out of the dugout to take the victory lap – a scene that is still played repeatedly on television.
Ripken went down in history as laughing about that moment, saying: “It was very spontaneous. I was feeling a sense of anxiety, that it was unfair to stop in the middle of the game. You felt for the pitchers – it was almost like having to sit through a rain delay. I just kept saying to myself, ‘okay, let’s get the game started. Thank you very much. I’ll celebrate it as much as you want after it’s over, but let’s stay with the game.’” But his friends pushed him out of that dugout and said, ‘Hey, if you don’t do a lap around this thing, we’ll never get the game started.’ Ripken thought that it was a ridiculous thing, but as he started to do it, the celebration of 50,000 fans was very one-on-one and very personal. A scene that will always remain at the top of baseball history.
The “world record” of consecutive games played happened just a little bit later on in his career – a record that had been held by a Japanese player. In 1998, Ripken saw it was coming to an end, and after surpassing all the goals he had set for himself, he decided to end his career on his own terms. Planning it ahead of time, Ripken was absolutely amazed that in 1999 he had his best season since 1991 – hitting eighteen homers, and a career high .340. In the year 2000 even more milestones appeared. And in 2001, Ripken announced he would retire at the end of the season. Ripken made his last shortstop appearance and was greeted with a standing ovation, then hit a homer on the first pitch and ended up receiving – once again – All-Star MVP honors.
The Orioles retired Ripken’s #8 baseball uniform in a ceremony held at Oriole Park, much to the delight of his longtime fans. There, Ripken thanked his supporters for the last twenty-one fantastic years of his baseball career.
In the end, there will never be anyone on that diamond better, smarter, faster, or more beloved than the Iron Man!
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