The Iron Man's Mettle
Ripken's historic Streak survived some close calls
Posted: Friday July 27, 2007 12:18PM; Updated: Friday July 27, 2007 3:45PM
Excerpted from CHANGE UP: An Oral History of 8 Key Events That Shaped Baseball, to be published by Rodale Books in March 2008. © 2007 by Larry Burke and Peter Thomas Fornatale with Jim Baker. Permission granted by Rodale Inc.
In the tradition of the great baseball classic The Glory of Their Times, Change Up is a compelling oral history that relives turning points in the national pastime as recalled by those at the center of the action. Change Up is a fan's box-seat ticket to a remarkable baseball event: a round-table conversation among the participants themselves about eight pivotal developments that changed the game from the 1960s to today -- vivid and personal accounts of some of the most important happenings in the history of the sport, from the expansion Mets of 1962 to the Asian immigration of the late 20th century.
On the eve of Cal Ripken Jr.'s induction into the baseball Hall of Fame, SI.com presents an exclusive excerpt from Change Up, in which Ripken and nine others recount their memories of the Streak.
Richie Bancells, Baltimore Orioles trainer responsible for keeping Ripken fit during the streak.
Thomas Boswell, award-winning Washington Post writer and author who covered the Orioles and Ripken for almost the entire length of the Iron Man's career.
John Eisenberg, Baltimore Sun columnist who was also present for much of the Ripken canon.
Mike Flanagan, Cy Young Award winner and All-Star. Won 141 games as an Oriole and later became the team's executive vice president of baseball operations.
Derek Jeter, Perennial All-Star and a member of the new wave of bigger, slugging shortstops that followed in Ripken's wake.
Jamie Moyer, Winner of more than 200 games in his long major-league career and a Ripken teammate from 1993 to '95.
Cal Ripken Jr., Orioles Hall of Fame shortstop who broke Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played, extending the mark to 2,632.
Bud Selig, Purchased the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970 and became baseball's de facto commissioner in 1992, a title he formally assumed in '98.
Ken Singleton, Orioles standout from the mid-'70s through the beginning of Ripken's big-league career.
Miguel Tejada, The Orioles' current All-Star shortstop, Tejada played in 1,152 consecutive games, the fifth longest streak in major league history, before a broken wrist sidelined him on June 22, 2007.
Had Cal Ripken Jr. spent a week in Tahiti each summer instead of showing up at the ballpark every day, he would have still had enough credentials to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Yet it is because he did show up at the ballpark ready to play every single day that he will be remembered. The night Ripken tied Lou Gehrig's consecutive games-played streak was voted as the No. 1 Most Memorable Moment in a 2002 poll sponsored by Major League Baseball. Ripken's record-breaker beat out countless other events that had many qualities it lacked, namely spontaneity, unpredictability and drama inherent to the pursuit of a pennant or world championship. Ripken's passing Gehrig was, after all, a moment that was all but inevitable for weeks, if not months or years, in advance, yet it was more memorable to fans than any other.
The Streak Begins
On April 29, 1982, the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays played a doubleheader. Ripken played in the first game and, as he had done in a previous doubleheader on April 17, he sat out the second game. The Orioles played five more doubleheaders that year, but there were no more nightcaps off for Cal. In fact, there was no more anything off for a long time. Ripken was not only starting every game, he was finishing them, too. He played every inning of every game until his father, Cal Sr., who had by then became the Orioles' manager, decided to give him an inning off at the tail end of a blowout loss to the Blue Jays on September 14, 1987.
The Streak, of course, had its critics. In 1993 Bobby Bonds said that by never taking a day off, Ripken was hurting his team and putting personal goals first. It was a comment that Ripken would learn to deal with.
Cal Ripken Jr.: Dad took the responsibility as the manager of the team, he thought it was right to take me out. In actuality when I came off the field after the Blue Jays had hit 10 home runs -- a record 10 home runs in a game -- we were getting beat very bad in Toronto and I think Dad in the weeks coming up to that thought it was a little bit of a burden that I constantly had to respond... because people started thinking about [my] playing every inning, every game, and there was a certain burden of managing that kind of thing when you came to a new city.
When I came to the bench he asked me, "What do you think of taking an inning off," and I immediately posed the question, "What do you think?" He said, "I think it would be a good thing." And I said, "Fine." And I sat on the bench. Having played in the field so long, naturally, I felt out of place. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know if I should go in and take a shower or should I sit on the bench. It was a weird sort of feeling and I guess I'm the kind of person that analyzes everything, so when I was sitting in the hotel room later, I started to think back on it, reflect a little bit, try to understand it so I could deal with it. There was a certain kind of numbing feeling and I thought as an exercise to put it behind me I would sit down and start to put my thoughts on paper and see where it would go. Then it was done and you start over.
The irony is that I don't think I missed another inning the rest of the season. I think it was just a point to break it and see if that would help. I trusted my Dad's judgment as a father and I trusted my Dad's judgment as a baseball person. I think if any manager would have come to me and done the same, whether it was Joe Altobelli, Earl Weaver or Frank Robinson, I think the same response would have happened. Looking back on it, I think people were making a bigger deal out of it than I was, I was just playing.