Saturday, March 30, 2013

March 30- Baltimore Orioles

Bird is the word!!!

My night has certainly taken an interesting turn. Tomorrow I will be in the Bay Area with my friends Tom Bentley and Vanessa Demske, ready for the start of the 2013 Major League Baseball season with the Oakland Athletics playing the Seattle Mariners at O.Co Coliseum. But for now, I’m sitting on a wooden chair in a frat house in Eugene, Oregon as a wicked game of beer pong is taking place less than 15 feet from my computer. This wasn’t exactly the way I thought my night was going to turn out, especially after completing my third fantasy baseball draft in the last week. At least for baseball’s sake the San Diego Padres versus Texas Rangers Spring Training game is playing on the TV in between commercials of “Coming to America” on Comedy Central. My life is weird sometimes.

For the last week there has been a meme created by @MLBmeme bouncing around the internet. You’ve probably seen it; the one of Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh after their 27-game win streak was snapped and below it is a picture of Cal Ripken, Jr. when he broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games started streak with the caption that says “that’s cute.” A lot of you have liked it and passed it on, but not me. I mean, a win streak and a consecutive games played streak are two different things, but even at that, why would you stop at the game in which Cal broke the record? Why not his final game tallied for the streak? A few people shared the same plight as me, and for all of you people, I thank you.

Cal Ripken, Jr. has been one of mine, as well as most of your favorite players in the history of the game. Like most of the kids from my generation, we got hooked on Cal at a very young age, much like Ryne Sandberg, Ken Griffey, Jr. or Mark McGwire. With Cal there was something more pure and genuine about his dynamic, which is one of the prime reasons why he became one of the faces of MLB in the late 1980s/early 1990s on through the end of his career in 2001. Even today, Cal is still one of the biggest ambassadors of the game, but the biggest shot in the arm for his career, besides his World Series ring in 1983, was the night of September 6, 1995.

If I haven’t stressed it enough over the last 88 days, the players strike of 1994 crippled the image MLB. Tony Gwynn was on pace to hit .400 and the Montreal Expos were on pace to win the World Series that year. With attendance looming after the strike ended and the players got back on the field, MLB, and most importantly the fans, needed something to be happy about. Cue Cal.

When I bought this hat in October of 2011 I got my dates mixed up on when it was used. The Baltimore Orioles used this cap from 1966-1974 and won two World Series titles under it. What I originally thought was that the Orioles wore the white front paneled cap during this era, the one I wrote about on March 14 about the Billy Ripken Fleer card. While I made a slight mistake with this, the message is still the same; Cal did what no other man probably will for some time to come.

#2632- Cal first took the field on August 10, 1981 as a replacement for Len Sakata, the second Asian American to play in the Majors. Cal made 2632 consecutive starts from that date until September 20, 1998 when he let rookie Ryan Minor start at third base in his place again the New York Yankees. After the first out was recorded David Wells was the first to notice that Cal wasn’t playing and stopped to applaud him. Everyone else in the dugouts and in the stands followed suit to give Cal and standing ovation. 17 years of playing every single day ended in an instant, but I suppose that’s the way most things in life really go. Without warning history can be altered, but it’s how people react to it that make all the difference.

While Cal only played 23 games in 1981, 1982 panned out to be a very successful year as he hit .268 with 28 home runs and 93 RBI, which were more than worth the Rookie of the Year award and 30th place finish in the American League MVP voting. Cal, like most of his accomplishments, took it in stride on into 1983. That year Cal padded his stats to the tune of .318 with 27 home runs and 102 RBI, as well as a League best marks in hits (211), runs (121) and doubles (47), but he did get caught stealing four times with zero stolen bases. I’m pretty sure the AL MVP he won that season helped him sleep through the night… as well as the World Series ring. 1983 was also the first of 19 consecutive All-Star Game appearances he made, the most consecutive AL appearances in MLB history as well as the most overall AL appearances in MLB history.

The rest of Cal’s career reads off like a grocery list: eight Silver Slugger awards, only two Gold Gloves at shortstop (weird), a second AL MVP in 1991 and a modest 3184 career hits. One of the most unusual things that people don’t seem to talk about is that Cal joined the 3000 hit club on April 15, 2000 after a single off of Minnesota Twins reliever Hector Carrasco in the Metrodome.

Cal's final game was originally set to be played at Yankee Stadium; however, the September 11, 2001 attacks led to the postponement of a week's worth of games. The games missed were added on to the end of the season's schedule. Since all the games the Orioles missed were at home, this changed the location of Cal's final game to Oriole Park, much to the delight of Orioles fans. On October 6, Cal ended his career in the on deck circle in the bottom of the ninth inning. Long-time teammate Brady Anderson, also playing in his last game for the Orioles, swung and missed a fastball high and tight on a 3–2 count to end the game. After the game, Cal gave a speech thanking the fans for their support over 20 seasons.

Cal was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on January 9, 2007 with a 98.53% vote, only eight short of a unanimous vote. My only question is, who the hell were the eight geniuses who opted against Cal on the first vote?

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