On This Date in Sports September 20, 1998: Ripken Sits
In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
All good things must end, and for Cal Ripken Jr. and his historic streak, it was the final home game of the season for the Baltimore Orioles. It is the first time since May 30, 1982, that the Ripken missed a game, ending a record streak of 2,632 consecutive games. The future Hall of Famer made the call, as Ryan Minor replaced him at third base.
Cal Ripken Jr. was born to be a Baltimore Oriole on August 24, 1960, in Havre de Grace, Maryland. His father was a longtime minor leaguer and coach within the Orioles farm system. A star at nearby Aberdeen High School, Ripen was drafted by the Orioles in the second round of the 1978 draft. Three years later, Cal Ripken Jr. made his debut with Baltimore following the 1981 Strike. A year later, he won Rookie of the Year in his first full season, hitting .264 with 28 home runs and 93 RBI. In 1983, Ripken won the first of two MVP awards, helping the Orioles win the World Series with a .318 average, 27 homers, and 102 RBI.
During his rookie season, Cal Ripken Jr's streak began as he missed just two games, including the second game of a doubleheader on Memorial Day Weekend at Memorial Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays. The following day, May 30, 1982, with no fanfare, began the greatest iron man streak in baseball history. In the early years of the streak, Ripken played every game and every inning, as he soon became the face of the Orioles. During this time, he was joined on the team by his brother Billy Ripken, while his father served as manager for parts of two seasons.
The streak began in the best of times as the Orioles were a perennial contender and won the 1983 World Series. It continued through some lean times, too, as the Orioles lost their first 21 games in 1988, leading to Cal Ripken Sr.'s firing as manager and rumors that Cal Ripken Jr. would soon leave Baltimore, too, as he was rumored to have nearly been traded to the New York Mets in 1988. The streak saw the last days of baseball at Memorial Stadium, as Ripken won a second MVP in 1991. It continued into Camden Yards, the first of a new wave of modern-retro ballparks that would transform the look of the game.
A decade into the streak, people began to wonder if Cal Ripken Jr. could break the streak of 2,130 games played by New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig. A streak started in 1925 and only ended in 1939 with the tragic diagnosis he had ALS. While people began to discuss Gehrig's streak seriously, others criticized Ripken, especially when he went through a prolonged slump in 1992 and 1993. It was on June 7, 1993; the streak nearly ended when Ripken hyperextended his knee a day earlier during a bench-clearing brawl against the Seattle Mariners. A game-time decision, he could only play after a day of treatment, believing that the streak would end.
The streak continued into the 1994 season, and then came the strike. A strike began on August 12th and led to the cancellation of the playoffs and World Series. After a nuclear winter, owners decided to use replacement players to start the 1995 season. A decision that would have torpedoed the streak just as Ripken was closing in on the record. Orioles Owner Peter Angelos, however, refused to field a team and was willing to forfeit every game if the scabs were still used when the regular season began. Fortunately, that never became an issue, as New York District Judge Sonya Sotomayor granted the Player's Association an injunction, which ended the strike.
After the strike, the loss of the postseason and World Series, the sport of baseball limped into the 1995 season, battered and bruised, and as angry fans refused to buy tickets in protest. The one consent was Cal Ripken Jr., who was fast approaching the record. As he approached Lou Gehrig's record, the number of games played was hung on the B&O Warehouse building overlooking Camden Yards. The record fell on September 6, 1995, against the California Angels, with a national television audience watching and President Bill Clinton in attendance. Adding a touch of dramatics to game #2,131, Ripken hit a home run while the President was in the booth in the fourth inning. When the game became official, Cal Ripken Jr. took a lap around the field as he was given a 22-minute standing ovation. After surpassing Lou Gehrig, the streak continued through a position change, as Cal Ripken Jr. moved to third base after playing shortstop most of his career.
The 1998 season was one massive disappointment for the Baltimore Orioles, who hovered near .500 after reaching the ALCS in 1996 and 1997. With the playoffs out of reach, the Orioles were scheduled to face the New York Yankees in the final home game of the season on Sunday Night Baseball. The Yankees came in with the division title already under their belt as they were on the way to winning a then American League record 114 games. With most of baseball's attention directed at the home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, Ripken decided the time was right to end the streak. Wanting to end the streak on his terms, he informed Manager Ray Miller of his decision earlier in the day. As game time approached, news began to spread of the streak's end at 2,632, with some expressing shock as Ryan Minor, who was selected to play over Ripken, initially thought it was a practical joke or rookie hazing. Not knowing what to do with himself, Cal Ripken Jr. spent time in the bullpen and the dugout as the Yankees beat the Orioles 5-4.
The streak ended at the proper time for Cal Ripken Jr., as the 1999 season saw him begin the year on the disabled list while also dealing with the passing of his father. Over the final three years of his career, Ripken dealt with various injuries, retiring after the 2001 season.