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Cal Ripken Jr. - Game After Game

record contract season orioles

By 1990 it was becoming clear that Ripken was no ordinary player. In an era of free-agents, the shortstop was "completely loyal to his team and old-fashioned in his values," as Gentleman's Quarterly writer Thomas Boswell stated. Ripken also went against the tide of the aloof, inaccessible star; he remained approachable to his fans and the press. "A lot of people are hesitant to come up to me," he told Sports Illustrated, but they shouldn't be. I'm a fan too, I enjoyed the game when I was sitting in the stands." Nor was money the driving force in Ripken's life, though he did benefit from his position in the Orioles. Even after he signed a four-year, $4 million contract, Ripken admitted to Newsweek: "I don't want to run down this contract, but the satisfaction that you get from playing, from catching the last out of the World Series … those feelings are a lot greater than this."

Awards continued to follow Ripken through the seasons. In 1991 he was named Most Valuable Player at the All-Star game on the strength of a three-run homer that won the game for the American League. By the end of that season, Ripken had posted an unprecedented season for a shortstop, batting .323, knocking out thirty-four home runs, with 114 runs batted in (RBIs). He struck out only forty-six times. The same year, Ripken won his first Gold Glove for fielding, and though the Orioles did not make the playoffs, their slugger/shortstop was named the American League MVP. His hitting flagged a bit in 1992, a period that saw Ripken at odds with management over contract issues. Though a free agent, he chose to stay with the Orioles, who offered him an unprecedented five-year, $30.5 million contract. By 1993, Ripken was back to form, hitting .300.

Chronology

1960 Born August 24 in Havre de Grace, Maryland
1978 Second-round draft choice, Baltimore Orioles
1982 Makes Major League debut
1990 Sets record for 95 consecutive non-error games
1994 Joins professional players' strike
1995 Plays in 2,131st consecutive game, a national record
1996 Extends playing streak to 2,216 games, a world record
1998 Sits out first game in 2,632 games
1999 Signs a contract extension through 1999 season
2001 Retires from professional play

Excerpts from Ripken's Speech on Breaking the Record

This year has been unbelievable. I've been cheered in ballparks all over the country. People not only showed me their kindness, but more importantly, they demonstrated their love of the game of baseball. I give my thanks to baseball fans everywhere…. There are, however, four people I want to thank specially. Let me start by thanking my dad. He inspired me with his commitment to the Oriole tradition and made me understand the importance of it…. My mom—what can I say about my mom? She is an unbelievable person. She let my dad lead the way on the field, but she was there in every other way—leading and shaping the lives of our family off the field…. When I got to the big leagues there was a man—Eddie Murray—who showed me how to play this game, day in and day out. I thank him for his example and for his friendship…. As my major league career moved along, the most important person came into my life—my wife Kelly. She has enriched it with her friendship and with her love. I thank you, Kelly, for the advice, support, and joy you have brought to me, and for always being there. You, Rachel, and Ryan are my life."

All the while, Ripken continued playing in every game. The professional players' strike of 1994 interrupted the action, cutting the season to only 148 games and canceling the World Series. When the players suited up again it was 1995, and Ripken was quickly closing in on the consecutive-game record set by the beloved Lou Gehrig.

Cal Ripken, Jr.

The "Pride of the Yankees," Gehrig had faced up to an incurable disease with such grace that he became a symbol of dignity long after his death. Indeed, there were those who suggested to Ripken that in Gehrig's honor, he should sit out the tie-breaking game and resume the next day with a new "streak." But Ripken was following his own path: "I wasn't doing this for a record in the first place, so I wasn't going to not do it for the record either," he was quoted by Richard Hoffer in a Sports Illustrated piece.

Cal Ripken Jr. - Chronology [next] [back] Cal Ripken Jr. - Seasons Of Change

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