Friday, June 21, 2013

#340 Cal Ripken

Card thoughts: Does this man need any introduction? Transformed the shortstop position from one manned by ping hitters with slight builds, into a position where some power was expected. An interesting note about the picture: there’s a perfect white line of people filing into what I think is Memorial Stadium right behind Ripken. On a personal note, this Cal Ripken rookie card is one of my proudest baseball card possessions.

The player: I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Cal Ripken is one of the five best players in my lifetime. Set aside the fact that the man played every day for 16 seasons, Ripken was a local icon in Baltimore (he played his entire career with the Orioles), and unlike many of today’s star players, had a squeaky clean reputation. Oh, and Ripken, who came up as a third baseman, was considered too big at 6’4” 200 pounds to play shortstop. But while he never had the range or arm of many of his peers, he made up for it by positioning himself correctly, and rarely making mental or physical mistakes.

Cal grew up in baseball, as his father and namesake was a minor league catcher for the Orioles, and later became a coach and manager for the big club. Coming up to the majors at the end of 1981, he hit a paltry .129. Despite this, he earned the starting nod at third base for the 1982 season. But he didn’t stick there long. Longtime shortstop Mark Belanger could never hit a lick, but by 1982 he was old and allowed to leave via free agency. So when replacement Lenn Sakata was shifted to second base in July, Ripken moved left as well, and ended up winning the Rookie of the Year Award.

1983 is when Ripken really exploded, winning the MVP award with a league leading 121 runs, 211 hits, and 47 doubles. He led in both offensive and defensive WAR, showing that he was quickly mastering his new fielding position. Ripken became a hero to American League fans everywhere, as he started the first of  16 straight all-star games (his career all-star game numbers: 49 at bats, .757 OPS).

Although he would never have such spectacular numbers again, Ripken settled into a career remarkable for its consistency. Every year, you could pencil him in for about 25 home runs, 90-100 RBIs, and 90-100 runs scored. Ripken’s batting average did bounce around a bit. He hit around .250 for several years, but also could hit anywhere between that number and .300. A non-statistical highlight came in 1987, when Ripken was managed by his dad, and his brother Billy became his double play partner. This was also the season when his consecutive innings streak came to an end, when his dad decided to rest him in the late innings of a blowout loss to the Blue Jays.

Ripken was so well respected by the team, he would occasionally give pitchers advice on how to pitch to certain lineups (Ripken was drafted as a pitcher). Storm Davis reportedly used his advice, and pitched a shutout against the Red Sox. Ripken even called an entire game from the shortstop position when Chris Hoiles, a young backup catcher, was playing.

Occasionally, he would have a better than average (for him) year. One of those years, was 1991 when Ripken once again won the MVP award, hitting a career high 34 home runs and driving in 114. That season he also had a spectacular WAR of 11.5.

As he aged, Ripken’s shortstop range declined. But he still played every game, playing through an ankle sprain in 1985, another ankle injury in 1992. A fight in 1993 caused Ripken to sprain his knee, and the labor strike in 1994, where there was a threat to use replacement service, were further threats to the record. But in 1995, Ripken finally broke the record late in the season, a received a 22-minute standing ovation as he took a lap around the field. As impressive as the feat was, the adulation was really too over the top. I mean, records are great and all, but a game was being played.

By 1997, Ripken was wearing down, and at 36, shortstop became too taxing for a man who had played over 2,000 consecutive games there. With the signing of Mike Bordick (a traditional shortstop: good field, no hit), he went back to third base where he would spend the rest of his career.

For his career numbers in 2001: fourth all time in defensive WAR (34.60); eighth in games played (3,001); third in assists (8,214); and second in sacrifice flies (127). In addition, Ripken had over 3,000 hits, and over 1,500 runs scored and driven in. In retirement, Ripken continues to be a civic leader in Baltimore. He runs a foundation that gives disadvantaged kids a chance to play baseball, and he owns an Orioles minor league affiliate. 

Rear guard: Ripken's first grand slam came against Yankees pitcher #152 Mike Morgan. It gave the Orioles a lead they would not relinquish (or add to) in their 5-2 win.
I have never heard of the name "Jehosie." But he was better known as "Jay," and the reason why he was sold was because of racism. Heard had pitched for the Birmingham Black Barons before being signed by the Orioles at age 29. He only started playing the game while in the service during World War II, hence his late start. 

The two games Heard would pitch in 1954 were his only major league games. Yet he would still get a card in 1954.

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