There have been lots of great players in Major League Baseball history. One measure of greatness though is whether your name is synonymous with a particular franchise and I think that is definitely the case with Cal Ripken Jr and Baltimore.
The lifelong Baltimore Oriole was both a star and pillar of the team for two decades, tirelessly producing for the only franchise he ever played for. Cal also had the unique opportunity to play for his dad Cal Ripken Sr as his manager and next to his brother, Billy Ripken, at second base. He also played with 1B Eddie Murray, another Hall of Famer.
A Star in the Making
Cal Ripken Jr. had about as good a start to his Major League career as you could want. In 1982, at the age of 21, he burst onto the scene. As a shortstop he was always big for the position at 6’4. He might not have had the defensive range of contemporary greats like Ozzie Smith, another Hall of Famer, but boy could he hit. As a rookie in 1982, he batted .264 with 28 homers and 93 RBIs, both second on the team to Murray. That was a good team too, finishing second in the American League East with 94 wins.
The next season Ripken was even better, batting .318 while leading the Majors in games, at bats, runs, hits and doubles. Packaged together, that won him the American League Most Valuable Player Award, playing for a team that won the division and ultimately the World Series, beating the Philadelphia Phillies. It was the most team success Ripken would have during his 20 year career.
Lost among early individual and team success was that Ripken never missed a game. Beginning on May 30, 1982 (during his rookie season) he played in 2,632 consecutive games. The streak ended 17 season later in 1998, with Ripken missing a meaningless late season game against the New York Yankees. Prior to Ripken, the streak for consecutive games was 2130, set by Hall of Famer 1B Lou Gehrig, nicknamed the “Iron Horse” for his longevity. Ripken added more than 500 games to the record, making it truly a record nearly impossible to beat. He played every game over 17 seasons. Most players do not have careers that span as long, and rarely do players in the modern game even play every game in a season.
Hall of Famer
Playing a lot does not get you into the National Baseball Hall of Fame; playing well does. Ripken might be best known for that feat of consistency but he was also an elite player. Over the life of his career Ripken accumulated amazing stats including 3184 hits, 15th all time, and 431 homers, the third highest total for a player who primarily played shortstop behind Alex Rodriguez and Hall of Famer Ernie Banks.
Ripken really did it all with the Orioles, winning a World Series title while also collecting several individual honours, including two MVPs, 8 Silver Sluggers and 2 Gold Gloves, showing he was more than just a hitting savant. Over the course of his career, he played in 19 All-Star games, twice being names All-Star game MVP.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, his first season on the ballot, with the late Tony Gwynn, another player who played his whole career with one team, the San Diego Padres. His number eight is one of just six numbers retired by the team and he is the all-time club leader in WAR. By every measure, you can see Ripken was the best player the Orioles have ever had.