Memorable Moments From Cal Ripken Jr.'s Orioles Career
Each week, PressBox baseball writers weigh in on a different topic. As the Orioles prepare to honor Cal Ripken Jr. on Thursday, Stan "The Fan" Charles and Jim Henneman share their most memorable moments from Ripken's career.
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
As Stan "The Fan," Baltimore's preeminent O's sports talker during Cal Ripken Jr.'s career, I can honestly say that I talked about Ripken and the streak more than any other human being on the planet. But I certainly never got bored talking about what made Ripken tick -- mostly because of one play during the hot summer of 1993, when I realized that although Ripken may have wanted the streak to continue, he was not going to let it define how he played the game.
The date was June 9, 1993, and the Orioles took the field with Rick Sutcliffe pitching for the O's against Bob Welch of the Oakland A's. After Sutcliffe retired the A's in order in the top of the first, the Orioles came to the plate against Welch.
Brady Anderson led off and hit into the first out of the inning. Mark McLemore was up next and singled to center. With one on and one out, a Welch fastball hit Ripken high on his left shoulder, an early and intimidating wake-up call. I remember to this day how uncharacteristically upset Ripken was after this attempt to brush him back. Cal jumped up and began trotting down to first, jawing some un-Ripken like remarks Welch's way.
As the inning developed, McLemore and Ripken moved up to third and second, respectively, on a groundout to third by Harold Baines. Next up was Mike Devereaux, who lashed a hard single to right. As Ripken took off, I remembered how angry he had been after being hit by Welch's high-hard one.
As Cal rounded third, I sensed he was about to send a message. The play was not a normal bang-bang play, because A's catcher Terry Steinbach clearly had the ball, which allowed Ripken the clean shot at knocking it loose. But Ripken's agenda went beyond knocking the ball away, and Steinbach just happened to be the wrong guy at the wrong place.
The collision was violent, although the ball did not come loose from Steinbach's grasp and the inning ended. Steinbach was out for the game, and I learned a lot about Ripken watching that half-inning. I realized he was unafraid of injury, and the by-product of the streak ending, and simply played the game as hard as he had to at any given time.
By Jim Henneman
When a guy plays 2,632 straight games with more than 3,000 hits and 400 home runs, there will be no shortage of memorable moments. But when I think back on Cal Ripken Jr.'s career, my thoughts initially go back to his teenage years and shortly thereafter for significant events.
The first was how I learned the Orioles had drafted Ripken. I was walking between my room and the hotel lobby in Anaheim, Calif., in June 1978 when Cal Sr., heading in the opposite direction to his room to make a phone call he'd never forget -- congratulating his son -- told me the good news.
Quite often, Senior showed an expressionless face, but on this day, he had the look of a man who felt 10 feet tall. He didn't dwell on the subject, just offered the information, "We got Cal in the second round." That was all he said, but his face said a lot more.
Another memory was one that actually preceded the draft. Most teams had Junior rated as a mid-second- to mid-third-round draft pick -- as a pitcher, no less. But Senior was adamant that he considered Cal Jr. an everyday player, and would insist that whatever team took him at least provide him the opportunity. The late Dick Bowie might have been the only scout that saw Ripken as an everyday player ("I think he can play shortstop in the big leagues some day," Bowie said weeks before the draft).
Ripken Sr. didn't have as tough a sell with the O's as he might have had with other teams. There are some scouts to this day that feel Ripken would've been at least a serviceable major league starting pitcher, perhaps even a potential 20-game winner. But we never found out.
I remember watching Ripken play a few games at shortstop for the Rochester Red Wings in 1981, shortly after then-manager Earl Weaver urged the front office to shift him from third base. It wasn't until the next year that the move became permanent, and I can still hear Weaver's words, "With Robin Yount and Alan Trammell around, I probably ruined any chance of him making an All-Star team." Seldom, if ever, had Weaver been so wrong.
As the streak became a topic of national interest, not all of it positive, I remember sitting with Ripken in a Detroit hotel as he closed in on the 10-year mark. As a concession to the daily grind, at Weaver's request, he would occasionally skip pregame batting practice. But he never missed the infield practice that would follow.
"It's the closest thing to game conditions that you do in practice," he said, specifically citing relay, cut-off and bunt plays that were a normal part of the daily routine. I'm sure it's not lost on Junior that the practice has been gradually eliminated to the point that few teams conduct pregame infield more than once a week, and some only on rare occasions.
I was the official scorer for the last game (No. 3,001) that he played, and have a copy of the official box score, along with my own personal sheet (I also have the one from the first game of the streak). I pretty much got to watch the career from beginning to end, the highs (actually caught a foul ball off his bat in the press box during the 1983 World Series -- don't ask where it is) and the lows (the horrendous 21-game losing streak to open the 1987 season, when Cal Sr. was fired as manager).
But, somehow, when I think about Cal Jr., I remember the gangly teenager bouncing into the clubhouse after his sandlot games were finished during the 1976-77 seasons and that afternoon in Anaheim, when Cal Sr. broke the news about the Orioles drafting his son. After that, the milestones that evoke memorable moments just seemed to fall into place.
Posted Sept. 5, 2012