Sunday, September 6, 2015

It Was 20 Years Ago Today: Cal Ripken's Magical Moment

I try to keep my perspective, opinions and comments as objective as possible on the Baseball Eras blog.  Although there are several teams I really strongly dislike, I try to make sure my comments don't give you a clue as to who those are.  I am a self proclaimed die hard fan of three teams (that's right three teams) but I try not to allow my comments to tip anyone off.  This week, however, will be a very personal article that will give you a clue as to who my favorite team is.

I have to admit that by the time the 1994 strike came around I sort of didn't care at the time.  I always loved the sport.  I can remember playing catch with my dad.  Going to games in Reading at Municipal Stadium with the family and friends.  Staying up late in the summer listening to Phillies and Orioles games in the living room.  We had (and I believe my parents still have) a large wood cased stereo about the size of an elephant.  It was a combination radio, record player and 8 track.  It was  a behemoth but the antenna was powerful and on a clear night we could pull in broadcasts from Detroit or sometimes even Chicago.  My father and I would play APBA in the dining room while Ernie Harwell would shout about a Jack Morris strikeout, an Alan Trammell-Lou Whitaker double play, a Cecil Fielder bomb or (as the years went on) a wild throw by Bobby Higginson.  I didn't really care who was playing.  During the summer I would stay up late for the West Coast game of ESPN's double header and fight to stay awake to watch McGwire-Canseco, Gwynn, Griffey Jr, Will Clark and the West Coast stars.

By the time 1994 rolled around I was in high school.  I had just gotten my license.  I had an after school job.  I was doing after school activities.  Of course, I was excited by my Orioles in those years.  I had never in my baseball life seen them in the post season and as late August approached Baltimore was in line to win the first ever Wild Card spot for the American League.  So of course when the season didn't finish I was somewhat disappointed but I didn't have the same outrage that many fans did.  To be honest, I was too busy with other things and too dumb to realize the impact of it.  I of course loved the sense of history of the game and hearing my dad tell me about the greats he saw and hearing others talk about the stories of the past but baseball at that time had become sort of background to me.

I have been an Orioles fan for years.  When they started 0-21 I was a fan.  When they came up just short of a miracle turn around in 1989 I was a fan.  When they traded Finley, Harnisch and Schilling.  for Glenn Davis (despite already having Randy Milligan, Sam Horn and David Segui on the roster) I was a fan.  When they came up short in 1992 and 1993 when they looked like they had a chance I was a fan.  At Memorial Stadium with the disgusting urine smell in the parking lot.  At Camden Yards with the Warehouse and learning that Boog was not just a guy with the Rib Joint.  I was a fan,

Pitching staffs with Flanagan, Boddicker, Mussina, McDonald, Moyer, Mesa, Mercker,  Milacki, Mills, Ballard, Sutcliffe, Key, Erickson, Guzman, Ponson, Olsen, Sherill, Rhoades, Williamson Thurmond, Frohwirth, Valenzuela, Sid, Myers, Orosco, Benitez, Haynes,Coppinger, Kamienicki, Drabeck, Timlin, Ryan, Hentgen, DuBose, Bedard, Byrdak, Penn, Loewen, Guthrie, Baez, Zambrano, Millwood, Uehara, Tillman, Matusz, Arrieta, Britton, Gregg, Gonzalez, Chen, Hunter, Hammel, Saunders, O'Day, Strop, Patton, Wolf, Feldman, Gausman, Brach, Jimenez and Norris.  I have loved every year.

Catchers like Dempsey, Kennedy, Tettleton, Melvin, Hoiles, Webster, Johnson, Fordyce, Gil, Lopez, Hernandez, Wieters and Joseph.

First Basemen Murray, Milligan, Horn, Segui, Davis,Palmeiro, Clark, Millar, Huff, Lee, Reynolds and Davis.

Second Basemen Ripken, Reynolds, McLemore, Alexander,Alomar, DeShields, Hairston, Roberts, Lugo, Andino, Flaherty, Schoop.

Third Basemen Knight, Gonzalez, Worthington, Gomez, Hulett, Manto Surhoff, Batista, Mora, Reynolds, Betemit and Machado.

Shortstops Bordick, Tejada, Izturis and Hardy.

Outfielders Sheets, Lynn, Lacy, Orsulak, Bradley, Devo, Dewey, Brady, Hammonds, Goodwin, Bass, Bonillia, Davis, Carter, Richard, Singleton, Gibbon, Bigbie, Conine, Reimold, Patterson, Markakis, Pie, McLouth, Snider, Cruz, Baines Guerrero, Scott, Sosa and Jones.

I have loved, hated, blessed and cursed each and every name on the rosters.  There are a select few that I never loved and reserved only curses for (those chosen evil doers do not appear in the above lists).

There is one other name that does not appear on that list and that is because I always held him above everyone else.  Above every other Oriole and every other player league wide.

As I said before, by 1994 baseball had become sort of background to me.  That is all except one name.





No matter what was going on in my life, he was on my radar.  I can remember being in Baltimore the day he passed Everett Scott on the All Time Consecutive Games Played list to move him into second place at 1308 consecutive games.  That left 823 games to catch Gehrig.  That left a little over 5 seasons for him to catch Gehrig, which I never doubted he would do.    No matter what happened in my life I followd Cal and his streak.  His successes were somehow my success.  His MVP award during a horrible year for the team was somehow my success too.  His snub for a Gold Glove was somehow a personal offense to me.  I was not a beach person but I loved our summer vacations to Ocean City Maryland because it meant I could get the Baltimore Sun every morning and read more about Ripken.  His at bats became an event for my family (which my brother and sister were not happy about).  I remember we were once leaving a restaurant that was showing an Orioles game.  As we were walking out at the end of the meal Cal was up.  We could not leave that restaurant until the at bat was over (which was a ground out but I saw that groundout).  There was even once when he was called out at second base during an All Star Game and I appalled my grandmother by suggesting that the umpire should be killed for daring to make such a call.

So when Cal broke that record, which I knew he would do, it was going to be my success as well.  I would often ask my dad when that day would be and he would figure it out for me and tell me a day but it always seemed so far away, like it would never get there.  It was like when you talked about an event so far distant it wasn't even really an event yet because so many things had to happen first.  Like talk of flying cars, hover boards, World War III.  It was something that could happen but was almost a myth.

When the strike hit Cal needed just 122 games to break the record.  That was less than a season away,  Still, when the strike came, the impact didn't hit me.  That was until the talk of replacement players began.  At first I didn't care until it became clear.  If replacement players played regular season games and Cal wasn't in them, the streak would end.

In December 1994 an article came out and I breathed a sigh of relief.  The Players Union said it had given Cal an exmption and if the league went into operation with replacement players, the Union would support Cal in continuing with the streak.  Cal,of course, refused.  Still, this was December and baseball didn't normally start until the summer anyways.  There was football, basketball, the Stanley Cup.  In my mind there was still a long way until baseball.

Then the stories grew.  The league would open spring training on time.  They would use replacement players. Cal would refuse to join them and if an agreement was not reached by opening day, the streak would be over.

My fear was relieved when an agreement was reached and Spring Training started with the Orioles regulars.  Now it was a matter of figuring out when.  The day.  It would be September 6th.  And it would be DURING THE SCHOOL YEAR?!  DURING FOOTBALL SEASON?! At least it wouldn't be a Sunday but so many things could take attention away from the event in the national spotlight.  For me this was everything.  It was when everyone, the entire world, would take notice of Cal.

As summer ended, the talk of Cal and his career grew.  Where had this kid come from?  How did he get to this point?  Why was he doing this?  Where did this place him in history?  What was the significance of the mark?  Who was Everett Scott?  Who was Lou Gehrig?  Could anyone else do this after Cal?  It was all summer and I loved it!

Stories started coming out about surprises planned for the big day.  ESPN announced both the tying game and record breaking game would be broadcast.  Cal was everywhere.  Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, Baseball Digest, TV Guide.

In April, when I finally figured out the date I requested the day off from work.  I had to be home to see this happen.  Now, it was just a matter of enjoying the coverage.  Then there was the All Star Game that made it all flash before my eyes.  As the 7th inning started Cal led off for te American League.  Nearing the end of the game the National League made a million changes.  Dante Bichette (Colorado) and Raul Mondesi (LA) moved into the outfield.  Mickey Morandini (Phils) and Mark Grace (Cubs) took over on the right side. Darren Daulton (Phils) was behind the plate.

"And on the mound is a guy you just have to see..." said Al Michaels in the broadcast booth.  It was Carlos Perez of the Montreal Expos.  He was wild.  He was energetic.  Some called him nuts.  "And if he strikes someone out you will see a show."  The first pitch was well outside and Cal didn't swing.  The second pitch was a changeup that Cal swung through as Perez did a little hop on the mound. Cal fouled the next one back and this was looking to be a routine at bat.  Then everything got real.  The fourth pitch of the at bat was inside.  WAY inside.  Too far inside and Cal had to be quick on his feet to get out of the way.  Just short of two months before the big day and that one pitch could have ended it all.  (Of course it is entirely possible that I overly exaggerated the importance of the pitch in my fear of something stopping the streak) but Cal calmed everything when he singled past third on the next pitch,

So the summer went on.  I kept working my high school job.  Kept doing dumb things high school kids do.  Dreaded the day school started again.  It was odd.  Day by day school got closer and it was an awful feeling.  At the same time, day by day the record got closer and it was amazing!

On Tuesday, September 5 I went to school.  After school I went to work and at work, when the damn customers didn't interrupt asking their dumb questions like "How much fat is in your non-fat yogurt?", I sat behind the counter of the Haagen-Dazs store listening to the Orioles game.  The mall closed at 9:30.  I was out of there by 10:00 and on the way home continued to listen.  It was amazing. When I got home I watched the stories on the news.  In those days SportsCenter replayed for hours at a time in the mornings and I watched it over and over before school the next morning.  The black and orange balloons.  The giant numbers on the warehouse.  The shy, gentle smile and hand wave of the man everyone was watching.

Then I had school.  That day dragged like crazy.  I knew I would have some home work (luckily it was still early in the year so I could probably half ass it and say it was done.)  The game started at 7:30 but by 5:30 I was parked in front of the TV.  Cal was everywhere on the news.  There were stories of what he had done after the game the night before.  He didn't go out carousing and celebrating.  He spent all night giving interviews and signing autographs for fans.  Then when he woke up (if he ever went to sleep) he took his son to pre-school and took his daughter to school.  There were stories of other people who had streaks of showing up for work.  There was a bus driver who had gone decades without a sick day.  A mailman who had actually worked through sun and rain and sleet and snow without calling in sick,

Around six I went out and got dinner. Wendy's.  Junior Bacon Cheeseburger (probably two), a small chili and fries and of course a frosty.  I came back in time for the ESPN pregame and sat in front of the TV with a VCR remote in my hand ready to record every little detail.

The Orioles were playing the Angels, who were fighting like hell to turn around a losing streak that threatened their first post season appearance since 1986.  On the mound for them was Shawn Boskie.  Cal led off the bottom of the 2nd.  Somehow it seemed like it took forever for him to get an at bat but here it was.  And he popped up.  Oh well.   You can't have everything.  Just the fact that this was the night was special enough you can't get a Home Run everynight.

He came up again in the bottom of the 4th.  My mom and sister had come into the room in between innings.  "We're going to Rita's for some Italian Ice.  Do you want to come?" What?  You gotta be kidding me?  Don't you two know what this is?  "No what is it?"  Cal's going to break the streak tonight.  He's going to pass Gehrig.  It's on right now.  Don't you want to watch this?  "Well then do you want us to bring one back for you?"

Bobby Bonillia led off the 4th with a solo Home Run putting the O's up 2-1.  Then it was Cal's turn at bat.  Camera flashes (you remember camera flashes?  Those things we had before our phones became cameras) were blinding on every pitch.  How a batter could pick a white ball out of the flashes was amazing but Cal did and he did it perfectly.  In the 4th inning he sent the ball screaming out of Camden Yards for a 3-1 Oriole lead.

Now all that remained was for the game to hit the official mark.  When the Angels went in order in the Top of the 5th that was it.  The music started.  The balloons went up.  The numbers came down.


The game was paused and the standing ovation started.  We had heard all summer about the lack of interest in the game.  Stories were everywhere that the players were out of touch with the fans.  That no one cared about the sport.  The players were too greedy.  The owners were too greedy.  The fans had moved on.  Yet the ovation grew.

Photo of Cal Ripken Courtesy of Baltimore

Cal came out and followed the baseball tradition of tipping his cap to the crowd and returned to the dugout.  The ovation lasted.  He came out again and tipped his cap.  He shook hands with one of the cops on the field for security. The ovation continued.

Cal sat in the dugout absorbing it.  Palmeiro and Bonillia and Brady Anderson told him to get out there and tip your cap again or the game would never finish.  So he came out again.  When he tried to sit down this time the Orioles blocked his path and forced him to stay out there.

So what did Cal do?  He took a lap around the stadium.  Unlike many players who  alienate the fans by screaming obscenities at their just beaten opponents or standing with his arms raised to draw attention to only his accomplishments he proved why the game of baseball survived the devastation of the strike.  He showed the fans that this was their game and that they shared it with the players.  He jogged the warning track, not the center of the field where  he would be on his own, the spectacle of the world.  Then, he did what was even more amazing.  He shook the hands of fans.  Individuals.  One on one.  As many as he could.  He stopped when possible and said thank you.

This guy just spent the last 13 years of his life to reach this point and he was thanking others.

The game eventually continued, the Orioles won.  There were ceremonies afterwards.  Cal's parents and family were there.  President Clinton was there.  Earl Weaver was there.  Even Joe DiMaggio was there.  My God!  You know this is a big event if Joe D is involved.  I sat there soaking up every second of it.

I had nothing to do with the streak.  I played 0 part in Cal Ripken's accomplishment but on that day I felt an enormous sense of pride.  My player.  My guy had not only broken the unbreakable record, with his humility, class and willingness to share his moment with the fans, Cal Ripken, Jr saved baseball from the death knell that had supposedly been sounded by the 1994 strike,

This will be a two part question:  Traditionally the managers of the All Star Game for each league is the manager of the World Series representative from each league the prior season.  So, for example, in 2014 the Giants and Royals played in the World Series so Ned Yost managed the AL All Stars of 2015 and Bruce Bochy managed the NL.

In 1994 there was no World Series so there were no World Series managers. Who managed the 1995 All Star Teams.

Part 2: Only one other time in history were the managers of each All Star team not chosen based on the previous season's World Series representatives.  What year was this and who were the managers?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
The 2010 Texas Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3 games to 2 in the ALDS and the Yankess 4 games to 2 in the ALCS before losing to the Giants in 5 games in the Fall Classic.

The Rangers returned to the post season in 2011 beating the Rays in the ALDS for the second time and beating the Tigers 4 games to 2 in the ALCS.  They fell to the Cardinals in the World Series in a 7 game classic.

Prior to the Rangers you have to go all the way back to the 1960s to find an Americanl League team who repeated the feat.  Before the days of the LCS the Yankees won the 1963 AL Pennant before being swept by Koufax and the Dodgers.  They returned to the World Series in 1964 but Ken Boyer, Bob Gibson and the Cardinals  won in a seven game classic.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have questions about something in this or a former post? Have a suggestion for a future post? Want more information on a specific team, player, season or game? I welcome the feedback, so feel free to leave a comment in the box or email me at baseballeras (at) gmail (dot) com.