This Monday represents the 15th anniversary of the date that Cal Ripken, Jr. played in his 2,131st game to surpass Lou Gehrig’s iron-man mark. A strong argument could be made that Ripken’s consecutive-game streak saved baseball. The Orioles shortstop’s modesty and commitment were just what the sport needed in wake of the devastating labour dispute that had wiped out the previous year’s World Series. Never in its history had baseball so desperately needed the spotlight shone on a star that loved his job, appreciated his fans and respected the game.
“In that final year, during the weeks and months leading up to the record-breaking game, he would go out after every game and sign autographs for an hour or two,” Baltimore Sun baseball reporter, Peter Schmuck, told me in an interview earlier this year. “Cal Ripken was the guy who welcomed back the fans, one autograph at a time. That record-breaking night was the culmination of all of it.”
Of course, aside from being a good guy, Ripken was a Hall of Fame player. At 6-4, 215 pounds, he revolutionized the shortstop position, challenging the long-held belief that middle infielders must be small, light-hitting defenders. A 19-time all-star, Ripken won two MVP awards, eight Silver Slugger awards, two Gold Gloves and a World Series title during his storied 21-year career. He also recorded 3,184 hits and bashed 431 homers. For his efforts, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, where a record 75,000 fans flocked to Cooperstown for his ceremony.
But what many fans may not know is that Ripken and The Streak have some significant Canadian links:
Cal Ripken’s uncle, Bill Ripken, played for the International League’s Montreal Royals for four games in 1949.
In Ripken’s biography, he cites Toronto native Jimmy Williams as one of the greatest influences on his career. Williams was Ripken’s manager in Triple-A Charlotte in 1979 and 1980. Among the most important lessons the Canuck would teach Ripken was to curtail his temper tantrums, which were plentiful in his minor league days. Williams had played 18 seasons in the minors, but evolved into a highly respected coach and manager in the O’s organization. He was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.
Ripken played the first game of his consecutive-games streak against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 30, 1982 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Manning third base that day, Ripken hit eighth in the order and went 0 for 2 with a walk. The Jays won the game 6-0 on the strength of a one-hit pitching performance by Jim Gott. If you’re a Jays fan that happened to be at that game, you might want to look for your ticket stub. One ticket from this game sold for $7,600 about 10 years ago.
Ripken’s consecutive innings streak (8,243) ended against Toronto on September 14, 1987 at Exhibition Stadium. Ripken was replaced by Ron Washington in the bottom of the eighth inning of an 18-3 Baltimore loss. Also of note, the Jays belted a major league record 10 home runs in that game, including one by Cambridge, Ont., native Rob Ducey.
On July 15, 1996, Ripken would make his first start at third base since the first game of The Streak on June 30, 1982. With Manny Alexander playing shortstop, Ripken would man the hot corner in an 8-6 win over the Blue Jays at Camden Yards. He had made 2,216 consecutive starts at shortstop.