“Cal is a bridge, maybe the last bridge, back to the way the game was played. Hitting home runs and all that other good stuff is not enough. It’s how you handle yourself in all the good times and bad times that matters. That’s what Cal showed us. Being a star is not enough. He showed us how to be more.” – Joe Torre
Cal Ripken Jr. was a throwback. He played hard, he played to win, and he played in every game.
On May 30, 1982, Ripken began “the streak” – the longest stretch of consecutive games played by anyone in baseball history (2,632), and in the process earned the moniker “Iron Man.” Fellow Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith said: “It is extremely impressive that Cal was able to do something like this while playing shortstop. You have to have size and strength, which he obviously has, you have to have skill and you have to have some luck. I have always thought that shortstops were the best athletes on the field and this just reconfirms that.”
A 19-time All-Star and two-time American League Most Valuable Player, Ripken redefined the shortstop position. Traditionally viewed as a position from which you wouldn’t expect a lot of offense, Ripken ushered in an era of superstar shortstops that could not only handle the rigors of the position defensively, but regularly hit 20-30 home runs and bat .300.
Ripken was selected in the second round of the 1978 MLB Draft by the Orioles – the franchise where his father worked as a coach. Ripken debuted in the big leagues in 1981, won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1982 and the AL Most Valuable Player Award in 1983 while leading Baltimore to the World Series title.
Along the way, Ripken moved from third base to shortstop despite conventional thinking that said at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds he would not be able to cover the necessary ground on defense. But Ripken's impeccable positioning and instincts proved more than a match for the position. He led all AL shortstops in double plays eight times, assists seven times, putouts six times and fielding percentage four times – winning two Gold Glove Awards.
Offensively, Ripken was a craftsman – continually making adjustments to his batting stance and plate approach. He posted 12 seasons with at least 20 home runs, including 10 in a row, and reached the 100 RBI mark four times. He won his second AL MVP in 1991 while leading the league in total bases with 368.
On Sept. 6, 1995, baseball’s “Iron Man” passed Lou Gehrig’s mark of 2,130 consecutive games played. When he removed himself from the Orioles lineup on Sept. 20, 1998, he ended a streak that helped heal the game following the 1994-95 strike.
Ripken retired after the 2001 season with 3,184 hits, 603 doubles, 431 home runs, 1,695 RBI and 19 All-Star Game selections.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2007.