The Sports Scene:

Ripken: The End of an Era

by Darrell K. Carter

AT SEASON END, iron man Cal Ripken, Jr. will halt his historic career after 21 Hall-of-Fame years as a member of the Baltimore Orioles.

He began his Orioles career as a 2nd round draft selection (48th overall) in 1978, right out of Aberdeen High School, rose through the Orioles minor leagues system with fanfare, and made his major league debut on August 10, 1981.

Ripken became only the seventh player in history to hit 400 home runs and have 3000 hits. In 1990, he played 95 consecutive games without an error, and by season end he’d set a shortstop fielding record with the highest fielding percentage (.996).

There are far too many of Ripken accomplishments to name in this article. Here are some career highlights for Calvin Edwin Ripken, Jr.

The Early Years

After his August promotion in 1981, Ripken’s 39 at-bats resulted in 5 hits. The following season was the beginning of a storybook career. Manager Earl Weaver saw enough talent to make the 6’-4”, 220 lb. player the starting third baseman before moving him to shortstop later in the year.

The Ripken switch gave new meaning to ‘Big Men’ at the position. History had deemed the position flashy and sleek, though ‘Rip’ has always seemed to know where to position himself exactly where the ball was fielded, and has done his work without flash. His keen sense for knowing the hitters revolutionized the position, and how the baseball world views ‘Big Men’ at short.

The ’82 season eclipsed into 28 home runs and 93 runs batted in, culminating in ‘Rookie of the Year’ honors for Ripken.

The Streak

It all started on May 30, 1982, when Earl Weaver assigned rookie Ripken at third base to replace Floyd Rayford. Weaver’s decision began the most famous streak in the world of professional sports. It lasted until September 20, 1998. Ripken played 2,632 consecutive games. Ripken’s homerun ball in game 2,130 fetched $475,000 on the auction block, and has been lent to baseball’s Hall-of-Fame.

During the streak Cal had the unique opportunity to play along side his brother Billy in the infield, while his father managed the ball club.

The Retirement Tour

Ripken’s announcement to retire after 21 season came just before the 2001 All-Star Game, where he made his 19 consecutive appearance for the American League, and his 17th as a starter.

During a seven-minute presentation, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig awarded Cal the “Commissioner Award” for breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak in 1995. Cal’s homerun in the All-Star game made him the oldest player in baseball history to hit a homerun.

The retirement tour continued after the All-Star game, when Ripken hit consecutive homeruns in his first five farewell cities.

Life After Baseball

Many have speculated what career path Ripken will take after his life in baseball. Some think he’ll manage a team, others believe he’ll seek to own a professional ball club in another town. Right now, all we know is that the ‘Aberdeen Project’ is high on his list of things to do.

The Aberdeen Project will consist of a state-of-the art baseball stadium in Ripken’s hometown. Scheduled to open in 2002, this miniature replica of Orioles Park at Camden Yards will include a youth baseball academy, complete with dormitories. Young people will travel from all over the world to participate.

A division of the Babe Ruth Baseball League is now named the Cal Ripken, Jr. Division. In 2002, the Babe Ruth Baseball League will hold its version of the Little League World Series at the new Aberdeen facility.

The Kelly and Cal Ripken, Jr. Foundation has been instrumental in supporting various humanitarian projects in Baltimore. The Reading, Runs, and Ripken adult literacy program has received state and national acclaim.

The end will come on September 30, 2001, at Yankee Stadium in New York. It promises to be an appropriate ending to a storybook career.

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This story was published on September 5, 2001.