The Iron Man Sits

This week (Sept. 20) in 1998, the last home game of the season for the Baltimore Orioles was somewhat notable because, unlike the previous 2,632 consecutive games he had played for the Orioles, third baseman Calvin “Cal” Ripken decided to sit this game out, ending the longest consecutive playing streak in baseball and sports history.  As baseball fans everywhere know, in 1995, Ripken, nicknamed “Iron Man,” broke the 56-year-old Major League Baseball (MLB) record of Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig (nicknamed “Iron Horse”) by playing in his 2,131st consecutive game.  The following year Ripken also broke the world record for consecutive baseball games played, 2,215, held by Japan’s Sachio Kinugasa.

But it is the game in which Ripken broke Gehrig’s record that baseball fans remember, in part because when the game became official after the visiting California Angels’ half of the fifth inning was completed, the stadium erupted with a standing ovation that lasted 23 minutes.  What then followed was among the greatest “feel good” moments in sports history as teammates pushed a reluctant Ripken out of the dugout so that he could take a victory lap around Baltimore’s Camden Yards Stadium, shaking hands with fans and high-fiving them as he trotted around the field.  Major League Baseball later named that the “Most Memorable Moment” in its history.

Then again, memorable moments were Ripken’s specialty, beginning with winning Rookie of the Year in 1982 and a World Series championship the following year.  He was named to the All Star team 19 times, earned two Gold Gloves (1991, 1992), and was voted MVP of the American League twice (1983, 1991). In 1991, the year he won his second MVP, first Gold Glove and ninth All-Star Game selection, Ripken not only won the All-Star Home Run Derby Contest but also was named that game’s MVP.  And he was named Player of the Year by both the Associated Press and The Sporting News.

Considered the greatest ambassador of the game for his era, Ripken was named to the MLB All-Century Team in 1999, and in 2007, his first year of eligibility, he was a near-unanimous Hall of Fame inductee — a fitting end to a peerless career.

But back to the game on Sept. 20 that Ripken sat out.  The decision, of course, was his and his alone — no manager in his right mind would have dared scratch Cal Ripken from the line-up without his permission, and then-manager Ray Miller was not crazy.  So when Ripken told Miller he was sitting, Miller calmly told rookie third baseman Ryan Minor that he would be taking Cal’s place that night.  Minor gulped, nervously looked at Miller and in a small voice asked, “Does Cal know?”