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Cal Ripken Jr. - Seasons Of Change

twenty team home play

Seasons 1984 through 1986 were ones of challenge for the Orioles. The team finished second in the American League in 1984; two seasons later the former World Series champions occupied the bottom rung of the standings. Ripken, however, continued to rack up accomplishments, including a setting an American League record for shortstops with 583 assists (a play that leads directly to an out being recorded). From 1985 to 1986, he hit twenty-six and twenty-five home runs respectively and batted .282 each season. All the while, he continued to be a part of every inning, every game. In 1987 another Ripken—brother Billy—joined the Orioles at second base. With Cal Sr. serving as team manager, the franchise set a record for the most sons on the same team at once.

That season didn't turn out as successful as the Ripkens may have hoped. The team finished 1987 in sixth place; Cal Sr. was dismissed as manager (though he stayed with the organization as third-base coach). Cal Jr. also fell back a bit, finishing with a .252 average, but increasing his home run count to twenty-seven. With misfortune following Baltimore into 1988, Ripken was notable mainly for being a bright spot in a losing team, batting .264 with twenty-three homers. Though Ripken's playing streak was still in effect, his father insisted that Cal Jr. sit out part of a losing game in 1987, marking a few innings off his otherwise perfect record; he still maintained his presence in every game, however.

The 1989 season marked Ripken's eighth in the Major Leagues; with his twenty-one home runs that season, he became the first shortstop to post eight consecutive seasons of at least twenty home runs. No less impressive was his fieldwork, particularly because, at six-foot-four and 230 pounds, Ripken was decidedly larger in stature than the average shortstop. In a position where players traditionally must grab, pivot, and throw quickly, Ripken instead focused on the action at the mound and the plate for his success. "While a shortstop like Ozzie Smith … dazzles the crowds with his acrobatic moves," noted Baseball Digest writer Kevin Cowherd, "Ripken relies on the situation—the pitcher working in front of him that inning, the count on the batter, and the tendencies of the batter-to get a jump on the ball and make the play." As a result, Ripken often seemed miraculously at the place the ball was hit, affording him more time to complete his play.

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