During an Orioles game in the 1980s, Keith Mills, Mike Marlow and I sat toward the back of the press box at Memorial Stadium. We had worked together at The News American in the 1970s and were swapping stories as quietly as we could, although not quietly enough.
We each had worked as high school sportswriters, and were focused on that when a ground ball got through the infield just past the reach of shortstop Cal Ripken.
“Jimmy Foit would’ve had it,” Marlow said.
Not long after that, another ground ball went through the hole between short and third.
“Foit would’ve had that one, too,” Mills said, laughing.
Nearby sat a reporter from one of the wire services that covered the team back then. “Do you really think Ripken is a bad player?” he said.
We told him we were just kidding but didn’t try to explain the story behind the inside joke. We already had been disruptive enough in a working press box.
The Foit reference goes back to 1978, the year Keith picked the paper’s All-Metro baseball team, and Mike oversaw the high school sports coverage. Ripken was a three-sport standout at Aberdeen High School, “which is an area we didn’t cover much back then,” said Mills, who left the newspaper business in 1980 to pursue broadcasting, working TV and radio ever since in a career built on passion and local knowledge.
Jimmy Foit was the star shortstop for Hal Sparks’ powerful Mount St. Joseph team, which played in the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference — the best in those days. Ripken dominated his competition as a shortstop and pitcher, but Mills gave the edge to Foit. Ripken made second team, as a pitcher. “I stand by the selection,” said Marlow, whose editing skills were as precise as Ripken’s positioning at shortstop.
At least one Ripken, Cal Sr., expressed his displeasure with the choice. “He chewed out one of our Oriole writers,” recalled Marlow, still thankful he didn’t have to field the call.
Foit went on to play at Virginia Tech and was drafted by the Texas Rangers, playing three seasons in the minor leagues. Ripken made his mark at home.
Thursday was the 23rd anniversary of the night he passed Lou Gehrig for consecutive games played, 2,131. I had the privilege of overseeing The Sun’s coverage at the time, working with an exceptional group of writers — including Buster Olney and Ken Rosenthal — editors and photographers who captured history in a way that made us proud. Those two nights — 2,130 and 2,131 — are the best moments I’ve witnessed in sports. The pressure to produce our best work was immense, but the storyline was uplifting and compelling, and Ripken played his part perfectly — hitting home runs on both nights and taking a victory lap no one will forget.
It made a night when the three of us reminisced in the Memorial Stadium press box seem like an eternity ago. And it made the time Jimmy Foit was selected over Ripken a good story to still be able to share with good friends.
Editor’s Note: Longtime columnist John Steadman hired all three of us and nicknamed Keith “tippy toes” for the quiet entrance and exit he made when he came in to write his stories. Marlow misread the schedule on his first high school assignment, going to the JV baseball game instead of the varsity’s. He tried to act cool when he realized his mistake, then drove like a “madman” to the right school, where the game was just ending. The coaches helped him fill in the blanks. Keith has always been able to be himself in front of a microphone, and Mike has always kept us laughing with stories real and imagined. Our friendship has survived the wrath of Cal Sr., and everything else.
Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for BaltimoreBaseball.com’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. If you would like to contribute to ‘Calling the Pen,” send a 750-1,200-word, original piece via email to [email protected] for consideration.