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Thursday is the 23rd anniversary of Cal Ripken Jr. breaking the unbreakable record. In the years since, no one has challenged his 2,632 consecutive games played.
The current leader in consecutive games played is San Diego’s Freddy Galvis with 303. Galvis would need more than 14 more seasons without taking a rest to pass the Iron Man. Galvis would be 42.
Ripken played long enough ago that a fan would have to be nearly 30 to remember The Streak, which ended Sept. 20, 1998, when Ripken told manager Ray Miller that it was time.
In the years since, his career has often been represented solely by the streak.
But it was much more. When manager Earl Weaver moved the 6-foot-4 Ripken to shortstop, it paved the way for bigger athletes to play the position. Alex Rodriguez mentioned Ripken’s influence on his career on the Sunday night game last week.
Ripken’s Wins Above Replacement Value (95.9) is 25th in major league history, proving to the sabermetric crowd that he was more than just the Iron Man. He’s one of the few infielders with more than 3,000 hits (3,184) and 400 home runs (431).
In his second complete season, Ripken won the first of two Most Valuable Player awards, and the Orioles won the 1983 World Series. The year before, when the Orioles nearly beat out the Milwaukee Brewers for the AL East title, Ripken was the Rookie of the Year.
Another impressive statement about Ripken’s consistency were the strong seasons he had when the Orioles were struggling.
In 1988, for the moment still the worst season in team history, Ripken suffered through not only the 0-21 start and the 107 losses, but the firing of his father, Cal Sr., who was let go after just six games as the team’s manager.
Ripken hit .264 but had a .372 on-base percentage. Ripken drew a career-high 102 walks while striking out 69 times.
In 1991, Ripken won his second MVP award despite playing for a team that lost 95 games. Ripken set career highs with 34 home runs and 114 RBIs. He also was MVP of the All-Star Game that season and won a Gold Glove.
His WAR that year was an astounding 11.5.
He was the Orioles’ leader in strikeouts with 1,305 until Chris Davis passed him this year in fewer seasons. Ripken never struck out 100 times in a season and had nearly as many bases on balls (1,129) as strikeouts in his career.
Ripken retired after the 2001 season and made a seamless transition to a business career. He’s still in demand as a speaker and corporate spokesman.
But he’ll always be remembered for The Streak, and for being the player who surpassed Lou Gehrig’s mark of 2,130 consecutive games played. On Sept. 5 and Sept. 6 in 1995, the national focus was on Camden Yards and Ripken. He homered in both games, and took his memorable lap around the stadium in consecutive game No. 2,131.
It’s an achievement that will stand the test of time, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that his all-around excellence helped keep The Streak alive.
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