Cal Ripken Jr.’s story is incredibly inspiring.
Growing up as the son of a Major League coach, he dedicated his life from a young age to the game of baseball and was rewarded with an opportunity to make his dreams come true.
From being drafted by his hometown Orioles to helping them win a World Series in just a few short years is nothing short of remarkable.
Ripken had a long and successful Hall of Fame career, becoming one of the most influential players to play the game of baseball.
Calvin Edwin Ripken Jr. was born in Havre de Grace, Maryland on August 24, 1960.
He was born into a family already deeply entrenched in baseball.
Calvin Sr. had been involved in the Baltimore Orioles organization for several years by the time he was born, playing in their farm system as a catcher before injuries halted his chance at a Major League career.
After his playing days ended, the senior Ripken remained with the Orioles as a coach, bouncing between the farm system and the Major League club.
Cal Jr. grew up traveling with his father to Baltimore and was exposed to baseball almost constantly.
He got to know many of the Orioles’ players since he was always on the field, taking advice from them on baseball and life.
It was this exposure that encouraged the young Ripken to dedicate his life to the game of baseball.
Ripken made the Aberdeen High School varsity baseball team as a freshman. He also played on the soccer team.
Initially beginning at second base, Ripken was moved to shortstop where he showed excellent defensive skills and a strong arm.
He also pitched for the team, averaging over a strikeout an inning.
Ripken was also a solid hitter, batting over .300 throughout his high school career.
Aberdeen won the 1978 state championship in Ripken’s senior season thanks in large part to his dominant pitching.
Ripken’s academic performance coupled with his athletic endeavors attracted many colleges and universities but Ripken maintained that his goal in life was to be a Major League Baseball player.
Scouted primarily as a pitcher, his hometown Orioles decided to view Ripken as an infielder, believing he could pick up pitching again if it did not work out.
They drafted Ripken in the second round of the 1978 amateur draft, and his lifelong dream of playing for the Orioles was realized.
Ripken began his professional baseball career assigned to Bluefield, West Virginia.
He started as a shortstop but struggled offensively and defensively in his first season.
The following year was a great improvement for the young infielder as he was named to the Southern League All-Star team.
He was moved to third base due to his defensive struggles at shortstop, which allowed him to concentrate on his offense.
He led the Florida State League in doubles and batted over .300.
Promoted to AA the following year, Ripken exploded offensively.
He hit 25 home runs and was once again named to a minor league All-Star team.
After just three seasons in the Orioles farm system, Ripken was inching closer and closer to joining the big league Orioles.
Ripken joined the Orioles during 1981’s spring training but was soon optioned to AAA Rochester.
He continued his success at the plate and once again hit over 20 home runs in the year.
Ripken’s continued success intrigued the Orioles, and they finally promoted him to the Major League team that August.
The 1981 season was notable for the player’s strike that altered baseball’s playoff format.
The Orioles were looking to snag a playoff spot down the stretch. Despite Ripken being called up, veteran manager Earl Weaver thought it was too risky to begin playing young guys over established players in a pennant race.
Ripken made his Major League debut as a pinch-runner and later served as a late-inning defensive substitute at third base.
Prior to the start of the 1982 season, the Orioles traded starting third baseman Doug DeCinces to the California Angels, opening up a starting spot for the young Ripken.
Ripken began the season in a horrible offensive slump but remained the starting third baseman because of Weaver’s and the Orioles’ trust in his abilities as a player.
On May 30th of that year, Ripken began his famous consecutive games played streak as he began to heat up with the bat.
1982 was also the season in which Ripken moved back to his original position of shortstop despite previous struggles.
Ripken was a large man, standing almost 6’5 with a large frame.
This was not typical of an early 1980s shortstop, as most shortstops were still smaller players who hit for contact and had exceptional speed.
Ripken’s move to and success as shortstop despite this anomaly would influence future players like Barry Larkin and Troy Tulowitski and change the idea of the stereotypical shortstop.
By the time the 1982 season came to a close, Ripken had a fantastic rookie campaign.
He hit 28 home runs and 32 doubles and drove in 93 runs en route to winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
1983 marked the first of 19 consecutive All-Star appearances for Ripken.
OTD in 1983, Cal Ripken Jr. became the first player to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in consecutive seasons. pic.twitter.com/Ejb0OpRS40
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) November 15, 2019
It was also one of Ripken’s best overall seasons, as he won the AL MVP Award and led the league in hits.
The Orioles won the AL East division handily off the back of Ripken’s stellar offense in the middle of the lineup.
He added another 27 big flys to go along with a 102 RBI.
The Orioles matched up against the Chicago White Sox in the ALCS, beating them in four games.
They faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, led by Mike Schmidt and Pete Rose.
In just his second career season, Ripken and the Orioles won their first World Series since 1970.
Ripken had achieved his dream of playing for the Orioles, and at the age of just 23 had already won Rookie of the Year, an MVP, and a World Championship, an incredible start to a Hall of Fame career.
By this point, Ripken had shown he had what it took to stick around in the big leagues, and the Orioles rewarded him with a four-year contract extension.
He didn’t miss a beat, putting up another excellent season of offense and defense.
Despite not winning a Gold Glove, Ripken was showing improvement at the shortstop position, and it became more natural to him as time went on.
He put in a lot of effort studying hitters and their tendencies, often attending defensive strategy sessions before games to be able to position himself in the right spot for each hitter.
On offense, Ripken again hit over 20 home runs and batted over .300, cementing himself as baseball’s best offensive shortstop.
The Orioles did not live up to expectations, however, and finished just fifth in the AL East despite continued production from Ripken.
1985 and 1986 were Earl Weaver’s final two seasons as the Orioles manager.
He had held the position in two stints since the mid-1960s and was one of Ripken’s biggest fans coming up through the team’s minor league system.
Over these two years, the Orioles failed to make the postseason, but Ripken made two more All-Star teams, racked up 51 homers, batted .282, and drove in 191 runs.
After Weaver’s retirement, Ripken Sr. was named the Orioles manager and Cal’s brother Bill Ripken joined the team as their second baseman.
The two Ripken brothers would soon form an elite middle-infield and were one of the most dynamic double-play duos in baseball.
Ripken’s batting average fell to just above .250 on the year but he still hit nearly 30 home runs on a struggling Orioles team.
Frank Robinson would replace Ripken Sr. as the Orioles manager a few games into the 1988 season, but the already-struggling Orioles began the season with a 0-21 record, one of the worst starts of any team in Major League history.
Ripken was in the midst of a slump during this skid but ended the year with 23 home runs, leading all shortstops.
Ripken signed another contract extension to remain with the Orioles during the season despite the firing of his father as manager, hoping the team would soon be out of the rebuilding process.
The 1989 season saw Ripken’s offense continue to slide. However, his defense was becoming more and more impressive, and he still made the All-Star team.
in 1989 Cal Ripken Jr is ejected for the second time in his career after arguing strikes & balls in the 1st inning. pic.twitter.com/fG3UYhAXCL
— OTBS Online (@OTBSonline) August 7, 2016
It was also in this season that he moved up the ranks in consecutive games played.
He had played in every game since May 30, 1982, and was now behind only leader Lou Gehrig and Everett Scott.
Ripken continued to struggle offensively as the 1990s began.
He remained an excellent defender at shortstop and even broke the Major League record for consecutive games at shortstop without committing an error.
He finished the year with respectable offensive numbers and led the team in home runs, but his production was not what it once was.
1991 was a different story, as Ripken started the season hot and continued throughout the entirety of the season.
He finished the 1991 season with a career-high 34 home runs, 114 RBI, and a .323 batting average, 73 points above his .250 average the year prior.
He made his ninth All-Star team and participated in the Home Run Derby, becoming not only the first shortstop to win the derby but also the first player to win the derby and All-Star game MVP in the same season.
The Orioles finished with a dismal 67-95 record, missing the postseason yet again despite Ripken’s fantastic campaign in which he won the AL MVP for the second time in his career.
1992 was another year full of offensive struggles for Ripken.
Coming off an MVP year, Ripken struggled to find his offensive footing in Camden Yards, the new Orioles ballpark.
He was also mired in contract negotiations with the Orioles until late in the season.
Coupled with a few freak injuries throughout the season, Ripken was not fully focused at the plate.
He maintained his defensive prowess throughout the season, however, and was now recognized as one of the best defensive players in the entire game.
In 1993, Ripken had another solid All-Star season but had been injured in a brawl between the Orioles and Mariners.
Ending up on the ground, Ripken had injured his knee in the scuffle and underwent numerous exercises to make sure he would be able to continue in the lineup, protecting his chase for Gehrig’s record.
Sure enough, Ripken remained in the lineup despite the injury and would go on to play in all 162 of the Oriole’s games for seasons to come.
In 1994, Ripken surpassed Hall of Famer Ernie Banks for the most home runs hit as a shortstop with 278.
On this day in MLB history:
July 15, 1993
Cal Ripken Jr. hits his 278th home run, breaking Ernie Banks' career record for most as a shortstop. He finished his career with 353, which is still the record for the position.#MLB #DFS #MLBDFS #DraftKings #FanDuel #YahooDailyFantasy https://t.co/oaZHK20Oyi
— Stokastic (@Stokastic_Com) July 15, 2019
That year was also the year of the infamous player’s strike, which ended the season that August and eventually led to the cancellation of the entire postseason.
At the time of the strike, Ripken was batting .315 with 13 home runs and 75 RBI.
Major League Baseball needed something in 1995 to wipe off the stain of the previous season as its reputation had been seriously damaged, some thought irreparably.
That moment came on September 6 when Ripken finally surpassed Gehrig for the most consecutive games ever played with 2,131.
Orange and black balloons filled Camden Yards as Ripken took a lap around the entire field, shaking the hands of the fans and his fellow players.
Commenting on breaking Gehrig’s record, Ripken said:
“I never really thought about the streak. I never really allowed myself to think about the streak. It was very simple, I wanted to come to the ballpark, I wanted to play, I wanted to help the team win.”
In 1996, the Orioles made the postseason under the new manager and former Oriole, Davey Johnson.
The team defeated the Cleveland Indians in the relatively new AL Division Series but was shut down easily by division-rival New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series.
Ripken hit 26 home runs, drove in 102 runs, and batted .278 that year.
In 1997, Ripken permanently moved to third base as years of wear and tear had made playing shortstop more difficult than it once had been.
Baltimore once again made the postseason and advanced to the ALCS, defeating the Mariners in the ALDS.
The Orioles would fall short of the World Series, however, losing to the Indians.
On September 20, 1998, Ripken voluntarily ended his consecutive games played streak in a game against the Yankees in Baltimore.
Ripken received a standing ovation from just about everyone in the ballpark, celebrating his amazing accomplishment of playing 2,632 games in a row.
As Ripken’s career began to come to a close, his power numbers diminished and so did his defensive abilities.
While his power was not what it once was, Ripken hit a career-high .340 in 1999.
Injuries also began catching up to Ripken and he played in just 169 games in 1999 and 2000.
Ripken’s final season came in 2001, his 20th season in the big leagues.
He was selected for his 19th All-Star game, and in a touching moment, starting shortstop Alex Rodriguez swapped positions with Ripken, allowing him to play in his long-time position of shortstop.
Playing at Safeco Field in Seattle, Ripken hit a home run in the game and was named All-Star game MVP for the second time in his career.
Cal Ripken Jr. retired as one of the greatest shortstops in the history of Major League Baseball.
His 19 All-Star selections, World Series championship, and two MVP Awards are impressive, but he will always be known for his incredible consecutive game streak, a record that will almost certainly never be broken.
Over the course of his career, Ripken totaled almost 96 Wins above Replacement (WAR), 3,184 hits, 431 home runs, and a .276 batting average.
On October 6, 2001, the Orioles retired Ripken’s number 8 in a game against the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards.
Life After Baseball
Five years after his retirement, Ripken was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007 along with San Diego Padre Tony Gwynn.
Following Gwynn’s speech, Ripken gave his speech to a large crowd on a hot day in Cooperstown, New York.
“It’s a great celebration for baseball, a way to step back from the controversy” (referring to Barry Bonds imminently overtaking Hank Aaron to become the home run king). Maybe we’ll be back to reality tomorrow.”
Later on, he added:
“My life in baseball has been a blessing.”
Ripken has remained active in charity in his years after retirement.
He and his brother founded the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation in the early 2000s, which provides underprivileged kids with the opportunity to play baseball through a variety of camps and practices.
The foundation also makes monetary donations to other charities and organizations involved in the game of baseball.
As of 2022, Ripken also owns stakes in minor league baseball teams, including an Orioles minor league team.
Cal Ripken was one of the major faces of Major League Baseball during the 1980s and 1990s, combining impeccable durability, defensive prowess, and excellent offense.
He revolutionized the shortstop position and changed the notion of what a shortstop can be. His influence can still be felt in that department in the present day.
His breaking of Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games record remains one of baseball’s greatest moments and likely played a huge part in saving the game post-strike.
Cal Ripken Jr. is not just the face of the Orioles franchise but has built a lasting legacy for years to come.