Baseball

MLB History: “The Iron Man” Cal Ripken Jr.

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As we get ready for 2021 Orioles baseball, it is fun to look back at one of the most important players in both Baltimore and MLB history, Cal Ripken Jr. Now only was Ripken one of the best hitting shortstops of all-time, but his streak of consecutive games played will never be matched again.

MLB History: Early Life

Even before he was born, it seemed that Cal Ripken Jr. was destined to be a Baltimore Oriole. His father, Cal Ripken Sr., joined the Orioles organization as a minor league baseball player in 1957 and would spend most of his adult life involved with the Orioles. Cal Sr. would marry his high school sweetheart Violet and together would have four children; Cal Jr. Fred, Billy and Ellen.

As a member of the Orioles organization, the Ripken family made their home in the greater Baltimore area. Cal Ripken Jr. was born on August 24th, 1960 in Havre De Grace, Maryland but would spend most of his early life in Aberdeen, Maryland. Surrounded by his father and his minor league teammates, Ripken Jr. would start playing baseball at a very early age and eventually star for Aberdeen High School. Ripken Jr. would lead his high school team to a Maryland state championship leading the way with a .688 batting average while throwing a 102-pitch complete game with 17 strikeouts.

As a high school student, Ripken Jr. caught the attention of many scouts and would be drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2nd round of the 1978 Major League Baseball Draft.

MLB History: The Streak

While most high school players struggle a bit with their first taste of professional baseball, Ripken Jr. dominated. Ripken Jr. would set the club record for home runs in a season in 1980 with the Charlotte Orioles and would earn his first trip to the majors in 1981, appearing in 23 games with the Orioles.

The following season Ripken Jr. would start to make his impact on the sport. On May 30th, 1982 the Baltimore Orioles hosted the Toronto Blue Jays at Memorial Stadium. That afternoon, Orioles rookie Cal Ripken Jr. made his way to third base and would start one of the most incredible streaks in MLB history.

On September 6th, 1995, the Orioles were home against the California Angels when Cal Ripken Jr. trotted out to his usual spot at short. In doing so he was appearing in his 2,131 consecutive game, breaking the streak previously set by Lou Gehrig. While fans had already witnessed MLB history, Ripken and the Orioles put on a show.

As the banner on the famous Camden Yards warehouse flipped to 2,131 the Orioles would beat the Angles 4-2 behind the arm of Mike Mussina. Meanwhile, Ripken would cement the night by driving a 4th inning home run deep into the Baltimore night with president Bill Clinton in attendance. Ripken would eventually voluntarily end his streak at 2,632 games.

Currently, Whit Merrifield of the Kansas City Royals has the longest current streak having appeared in 307 consecutive games. To beat Ripken, Merrifield will have to play in 162 games each season for just over the next 14 MLB seasons, which would see Merrifield break the record at the age of 46.

MLB History: Career Highlights

Not only was Ripken Jr. known for his streak, but he is still regarded as one of the best hitting shortstops in MLB history. Before Ripken, shortstops were frequently smaller and mainly known for their defensive abilities, however, Earl Weaver would keep the 6’4″ Ripken at shortstop for the majority of his career.

Ripken Jr. would put the first trophy in his trophy case during his rookie season winning the American League Rookie of the Year. The following season would see him win his first MVP award, the first of 19 straight All-Star games, and his only World Series championship as the Orioles took down the Phillies in five games.

Not only was Ripken dominant at the plate, but he took home two Gold Glove awards for his work in the field and won the 1992 Roberto Clemente award for his charitable work in the greater Baltimore community.

By the end of his career, Ripken Jr. would be nominated to the All-Century team, collect over 3,100 hits (15th most in MLB history), have his number 8 retired by the Orioles and enter the MLB Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, while falling just eight votes shy of a perfect ballot.

MLB History: Legacy

Cal Ripken Jr. is still one of the most beloved figures in the history of Baltimore sports. His ability to always play regardless of nagging injury has made him an idol just not in baseball but all professional sports. Whenever the Orioles needed a big play, Ripken was always ready to contribute.

Meanwhile, Ripken Jr. turned a recent battle with prostate cancer public to help spread awareness for the disease. Unsurprisingly, not even cancer could stop the Iron Man who announced last year that he was cancer-free.

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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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