Fifteen years ago yesterday Cal Ripken Jr. suited up and took the field for the 2,131st consecutive time. From May 2nd, 1982 until September 6th, 1995 he ran out to shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles in every single game they played and in doing so he broke the Iron Horse Lou Gehrig‘s “unbreakable record.”
I was nine when Ripken broke the record and I watched the entire game in my parents’ bedroom. I remember certain parts really well, like Ripken’s 4th inning homerun off the immortal Shawn Boskie, his 22 minute lap around Camden Yards, and unveiling the numbers on the warehouse across the street. Other things I don’t remember quite as well, like the final score (4-2 Orioles over the Angels), and anything else that happened.
Still, I remember that moment better than most of them in my baseball loving life. I remember not quite understanding just how great it was when your team wins the World Series in after Carlos Baerga flew out to Marquis Grissom in 1995. I remember sitting around the kitchen table when Mark McGwire hit his 62nd homer off Steve Trachsel in 1998. I remember jumping around my basement in 2001 when Luis Gonzalez singled home Tony Womack to beat the Yankees in the World Series. I remember watching the final outs of the 2004 and 2006 World Series from the stands at Old Busch and New Busch Stadium. And I remember Cal.
Now, obviously there are other moments in between that I remember, but this is pretty select company. Today I was reading some comments on Baseball-Reference from some folks were who diminishing Cal’s record. Yes, I realize playing every game is not necessarily a baseball skill, but it’s hard to hit 400+ homers and get 3,000+ hits by not playing. Right, Mark Prior? JD Drew? But that’s beside the point. Ripken was Rookie of the Year in 1982, a 2-time MVP, 19-time All-Star, 8-time Silver Slugger and 2-time Gold Glover. It wasn’t just his streak that made him great.
But think about this for a second. How many of you readers went from Kindergarten through your senior year of high school without missing a day? I know I didn’t. If I sneezed once I was trying to stay home for the entire week.
No matter how you slice it, playing in over 2,100 straight games is impressive and should be recognized and commended.
Still others commented on how The Streak became a hindrance to the Orioles. Now I don’t know the mid-90s Orioles farm system very well, but I don’t think they had anyone who could come in and offer the same things Cal could. I realize that his OPS+ from 92-95 was only over 100 once in that span, but A) it was never under 90 and B) Ripken brought people to the ballpark. The O’s finished no higher than 3rd in that span except for 1994 when the World Series was canceled. Would someone truly be willing to suggest that a replacement player would have been more beneficial to the Orioles organization? That would be silly.
I’m not suggesting that if Cal played 150 games per year that his stats wouldn’t have been better as he got older. They probably would have been. At the same time, his everyday presence in the lineup in the mid-to-late-80s was probably more valuable than his mid-90s presence at whatever diminished rate.
In short, Cal Ripken is one of the All-Time Greats, streak or no streak. I know that 15 years ago the entire baseball world stopped to acknowledge Ripken’s greatness and that accomplishment has not been lost on me a decade and a half later.