What MLB player never missed a game?
Cal Ripken Jr. Biography
Cal Ripken Jr. holds many records in professional baseball, but it is his breaking of Lou Gehrig’s (1903–1941) record of 2,131 consecutive games played that gained him so many admirers, who call him the «Iron Man» of baseball. The perseverance, endurance, and everyday work ethic that Ripken exhibited throughout his twenty-one seasons with the Baltimore Orioles made him one of the most popular professional athletes in all of sports.
Growing up with the Orioles
Calvin Edwin Ripken Jr. was born on August 24, 1960, in the small Maryland town of Havre de Grace, to Calvin Sr. and Viola Ripkin. His father had been with the Baltimore Orioles baseball team as a minor league catcher since 1957. After a shoulder injury dashed his hopes of a major league career, the elder Ripken stayed on with the club as a coach and manager at both the minor and major league level. During the summers, the family would leave Aberdeen, Maryland, about thirty miles north of Baltimore, and travel with Cal Sr. during the baseball season. Even with all of the traveling alongside his father, Cal Jr. never saw much of him because of the long hours he put in at the ball park. He soon came to the conclusion that the only way he would be able to see his father was if he played baseball.
In 1976, Ripken’s father was promoted to a coaching position with the Orioles in Baltimore. Cal Jr. was a constant presence, pitching and hitting during batting practices, retrieving balls, getting advice from major league stars like Brooks Robinson (1937–), and dreaming of becoming a Baltimore Oriole.
In high school Ripken made the varsity (a school’s main team which is usually made up of upperclassmen) baseball team as a freshman. Ripken played in the Mickey Mantle World Series in Texas in 1977 and won the Harford County batting title with an amazing .492 batting average (the percent of time a baseball player gets a hit) his senior year. His high school team was crowned state Class A champions in 1978 and, soon after, Ripken was selected by the Orioles in the second round of the annual baseball draft. His dream was complete, as he was now a member of the Baltimore Orioles organization.
Begins play for the Orioles
Ripken was employed by Baltimore’s minor league team in Bluefield, West Virginia, where he was assigned the shortstop position instead of pitcher. His first season with Bluefield was not a great success. He had a .264 batting average and led the league in errors with thirty-three. Soon after, he was moved to the Orioles’s Florida Instructional League team in Miami and improved to a .303 batting average.
By the next season Ripken’s play greatly improved. He was named the Southern League’s all-star and was soon moved up the ladder again, this time to the Orioles’s AAA team (the minor league team one step below the major league team) in Rochester, New York, in 1981. He continued to develop in
Cal Ripken Jr.
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AP/Wide World Photos
Rochester, with a batting average of .288 and twenty-three home runs, before being called up to the major leagues in August of 1981.
Ripken had a batting average of only .128 in thirty-nine at-bats during his first season with the Orioles, but his second season would prove to be a turning point. Ripken’s performance in his second season improved to a .264 batting average with twenty-eight home runs. He was selected as the American League’s Rookie of the Year.
In 1983, with Ripken firmly in place and comfortable, he helped the Orioles win the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. For his efforts he was voted the American League’s Most Valuable Player for the series and the Sporting News player of the year.
By the 1989 season, Ripken was slowly taking over as the team’s leader. Despite losing the divisional title to the Toronto Blue Jays, Ripken committed only eight errors and hit twenty-one home runs. This made him the first shortstop to have eight 20homer seasons. On June 12, 1990, Ripken moved into second place for the record of most consecutive games played as he appeared in his one thousand three hundredth consecutive game, surpassing Everett Scott’s mark. He also set a shortstop record by playing ninety-five games without committing an error.
On September 6, 1995, Ripken became baseball’s «Iron Man» as he surpassed Lou Gehrig’s all-time consecutive games played record of 2,130. He had not missed a game since May 30, 1982, and when the game became official in the fifth inning, the capacity crowd at Baltimore’s Camden Yards roared its approval. During a speech after the milestone game, Ripken underplayed his achievement and showed the humility (the state of not being arrogant) that had become his trademark. «Tonight I stand here, overwhelmed, as my name is linked with the great and courageous Lou Gehrig,» he told the crowd. «I’m truly humbled to have our names spoken in the same breath.»
On September 20, 1998, Ripken took a day off work, leaving his streak of most consecutive games played at an astounding two 2,632, undoubtedly one of the safest records in all of sports. In July of 2001, Ripken played in his last All-Star game, winning the Most Valuable Player award. At the end of that season, Ripken walked away from the game for good. In retirement he holds nearly every Oriole offensive batting record, including most hits, doubles, home runs, and runs batted in.
For More Information
Campbell, Jim. Cal Ripken, Jr. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1997.
Nicholson, Lois. Cal Ripken, Jr., Quiet Hero. 2nd ed. Centreville, MD: Tidewater Publishers, 1995.
Ripken, Cal, Jr. Ripken: Cal on Cal. Edited by Mark Vancil. Arlington, TX: Summit Pub. Group, 1995.
Ripken, Cal, and Mike Bryan. The Only Way I Know. New York: Viking, 1997.
Rosenfeld, Harvey. Iron Man: The Cal Ripken, Jr. Story. New York: St. Martin’s Mass Market Paperback, 1996.
Savage, Jeff. Cal Ripken, Jr.: Star Shortstop. Hillside, NJ: Enslow, 1994.
Sandy Koufax responded to a higher calling on Yom Kippur in 1965
The holiest of Jewish holy days left a gaping hole in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rotation at the beginning of the 1965 World Series. But for Sandy Koufax, his faith came before his career.
Koufax, the incomparable Dodgers ace, naturally would be expected to start Game 1 against the Minnesota Twins in Bloomington, Minn. But Oct. 6, 1965, the date of Game 1 of the World Series, also happened to be the date of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – on the Jewish calendar. The commissioner’s office determined the World Series dates in a meeting on Sept. 8, when the Dodgers were about to creep back into second place.
“From what I’ve been told, there are no dispensations for this particular day,” Koufax told the Associated Press in an article which ran on Oct. 1, when the Dodgers were back in first and locked into a tight pennant race with San Francisco. “But then I haven’t really talked about it to a rabbi. If we sew up the pennant, I plan to take it up and find out the proceedings. If I’m told it isn’t proper to pitch, then I won’t because I wouldn’t feel right about it.
Because Game 1 of the 1965 World Series fell on Yom Kippur, Sandy Koufax (right) choose not to pitch. Don Drysdale (left) took the hill for the Dodgers instead. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)
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“I’m praying for rain Wednesday (Oct. 6). It has to rain. It would solve the whole matter.”
Koufax’s boss, Walter O’Malley, put any questions to rest by stating his star southpaw would pitch in Game 2 instead.
“I won’t let Sandy pitch on Yom Kippur under any circumstances,” O’Malley told the press. “I can’t let the boy do that to himself.”
Yet O’Malley, too, decided to see what the heavens could do to avoid playing Game 1 on Yom Kippur, noting he’d “ask the Pope what he can do about rain on that day.”
The weathermen, however, called for favorable conditions that afternoon at Metropolitan Stadium, and Don Drysdale would take the hill for the Dodgers, facing off against Jim “Mudcat” Grant.
According to United Press International’s Milton Richman, Koufax made up his mind on choosing religion over the World Series in 1959 when the championship coincided with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. He did not attend workouts at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and he did not pitch in Game 4.
Koufax summed up his thoughts with Richman, saying that a “man is entitled to his belief and I believe I should not work on Yom Kippur. It’s as simple as all that and I have never had any trouble on that account since I’ve been in baseball.”
The 1959 World Series was not the first time that Koufax missed a game in favor of a Jewish holiday. In April 1959, Koufax requested to skip his start on April 22 due to it being the first night of Passover. Similarly, in 1961 and 1963, Koufax skipped his turns in the rotation which conflicted with Rosh Hashanah. Teammate Larry Sherry, also Jewish, is believed to have sat out for the holiday in 1961. In 1963, Koufax more than made up for the trouble in rearranging the pitching staff’s schedule by striking out a record 15 Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series.
Hank Greenberg played nine full seasons in the big leagues, leading the AL in home runs four times. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)
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Sandy Koufax pitched for the Dodgers from 1955-1966. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)
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Drysdale, a 23-game winner during the 1965 season, could not make it through the third inning of Game 1, as the Twins batted around in a six-run outburst. With an early 7-1 lead, Minnesota coasted on Grant’s pitching to an 8-2 victory in the 1965 Series lid-lifter.
Attempting his version of gallows humor, Drysdale is reported to have asked Dodgers manager Walter Alston if he wished “I was Jewish today, too,” so that Drysdale also would not have pitched on Yom Kippur.
Koufax’s decision to not play on Yom Kippur was not without precedent, even though this time the holiday fell during the World Series. Detroit Tigers star Hank Greenberg won the hearts of Detroiters by playing – and hitting two home runs – on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, in 1934. Doing so helped lift the Tigers to the American League pennant, and with that out of the way and still in the regular season, Greenberg opted to take the day off on Yom Kippur. Game 6 of the 1935 World Series fell on Yom Kippur, and Greenberg did not play, though that was largely due to a wrist injury suffered in Game 2.
Sandy Koufax accepts his 1959 World Series ring from Commissioner Ford Frick in 1960. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)
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Edgar Guest wrote a poem regarding Greenberg’s 1934 decision, which appeared in newspapers across the country. Titled “Speaking of Greenberg,” the final lines read: “Said Murphy to Mulrooney ‘We shall lose the game today!/ We shall miss him in the infield and shall miss him at the bat,/ But he’s true to his religion – and I honor him for that!’”
In 1954, Al Rosen of the Indians said he would not play in Game 5 of the World Series, which fell on Yom Kippur. However, a Giants sweep of the Indians made it a moot point.
Though he was true to his religion and certainly missed by Dodgers fans, the extra day off in 1965 did not help Koufax much. Despite nine strikeouts, he lasted only six innings in Game 2, being pulled for a pinch hitter with the Dodgers trailing, 2-0. Minnesota tacked on three more runs against the Los Angeles bullpen for a 5-1 win.
With the World Series shifting to southern California, Koufax and Drysdale remained confident in their abilities, laughing when Drysdale said, “Well, we sure got ourselves in a hell of a mess, didn’t we?” Claude Osteen got things back on track for the Dodgers with a five-hit shutout in Game 3. Drysdale and Koufax picked up complete-game wins in Games 4 and 5, respectively, but Grant stymied Los Angeles in what would prove to be the penultimate game.
Each pitching on two days’ rest, Koufax and the Twins’ Jim Kaat went head-to-head in Game 7. Two runs in the third inning on a Lou Johnson solo home run and an RBI single by Wes Parker knocked Kaat out and provided all the offense Koufax would need in going the distance. Koufax earned his second World Series MVP Award and his fourth ring. (Though he did not play in the 1955 World Series, Koufax was on the Dodgers’ roster.)
Claude Osteen (center) celebrates with Don Drysdale (right) and Sandy Koufax (left) after Sandy leads the Dodgers to a 7-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins in Game 5 of the 1965 World Series. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)
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Jewish major league personnel still face the personal decision about whether to play during the high holidays. Some, like Dodgers outfielder Shawn Green, who in the midst of a heated divisional race sat out on Yom Kippur in 2001, believed it was the right thing to do. Others, like the Brewers’ Jesse Levis, a backup catcher who was inserted as a pinch hitter against Baltimore on Yom Kippur in 1996, sought understanding from a higher power for his having played.
“It’s not like I’m Sandy Koufax,” he said. “I don’t have that kind of leverage. I hope God forgives me.”
Matt Rothenberg is the manager of the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Mike Trout: does the world’s best baseball player finally have a supporting cast?
M ike Trout has done so many wondrous things in nearly 11 full big-league seasons – 319 home runs, nine All-Star appearances, three American League Most Valuable Player awards among them – that it is hard to believe that he has but one career postseason hit. One.
That lonely hit, a bases-empty home run, came in the top of the first inning of a game on 5 October 2014 that the then-Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim would lose to the Kansas City Royals, 8-3, to get swept out of the American League Division Series in three games.
That 1-for-12 performance at the plate was in Trout’s only postseason, so he has zero playoff victories. Since 2015 – a period when the other Los Angeles team, the Dodgers, have been to three World Series, winning one – the Angels have not had a winning season.
It is hard to feel too sorry for a big-league ballplayer who has a 12-year, $426.5m contract. But it must hurt Trout, widely considered the best baseball player on the planet and possibly one of the greatest of all time, that his teammates have been unable to complement his talent for so long.
That is, perhaps, until now. He is playing for a Los Angeles Angels team (they dropped the of Anaheim part six years back) who have established themselves as a contender in the first six weeks of the season, winning 10 of their first 15 games in May to become a contender in the AL West, where their main challengers are the Houston Astros.
Shohei Ohtani: the two-way Japanese marvel with once-in-a-century talent
“I’m just really happy for the guys,” Joe Maddon, their third-year manager, said in a news conference after an 11-3 victory over Tampa Bay earlier this month. “They come ready to play every day. They’re very tightly knit. We’re a lot of fun.”
Wait. Joe Maddon. Remember him? Just six years ago, Maddon led the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series title in 108 years. Before that, he’d taken the once-forlorn Tampa Bay Rays to their first World Series, which they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.
Maddon, who grew up over his father’s plumbing shop in West Hazleton, Pennsylvania, spent virtually his entire minor-league career as a catcher in the Angels’ organization. He was later a scout, interim manager and coach. He was Mike Scioscia’s bench coach for the Angels team that won the World Series in 2002. But his triumphant return to the team got off to a slow start.
Maddon’s first year back with the Angels, 2020, was trimmed to 60 games because of the Covid pandemic. Trout’s 2021 season ended on May after he tore a calf muscle. He appears more than just OK this year, and the Angels appear to have an even better pitching staff than last season.
They will probably need to outlast the Astros to win their first AL West title since 2014, but the Angels appear to have put together a roster, and a good start, that could lead them to a spot in the MLB playoff field, which has been expanded this year to 12 teams.
Trout remains the linchpin. He grew up in Millville, New Jersey, where he was known as “Mikey,” the kid who took batting practice in his backyard by tossing up rocks and hitting them with an aluminum bat, the ping-ping-ping carrying through his neighborhood.
Although he grew up far from traditional baseball hotbeds, he became a prodigy, muscular, smart, stoic, pleasant – if not a quote machine. His main interest, famously, is not flashy cars or NFT schemes but the weather forecast. His career WAR, a metric that measures a player’s overall contribution to his team, is 78.8. For context, that is only 0.4 behind Joe DiMaggio – and Trout still has plenty of years to come. If he stays injury free he should retire in the top 10 of all time in career WAR.
After he was named as the AL Rookie of the Year in 2012, he said of a possible sophomore slump, “I don’t believe in that stuff. I just go out and play. You go into a slump, you just got to get out of it. That’s the way I look at it.” So, not that surprisingly, Trout, who turns 31 in August, has bounced back from last season strongly, logging an on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) average that is similar to the one he compiled in his three MVP seasons.
The difference, this time around, is that Trout has two other formidable everyday teammates: the amazing Shohei Ohtani, who is not just a designated hitter but a pitcher as well, and the leadoff man Taylor Ward, a career .254 hitter who is somehow topping the American League batting average table this season.
Last week was especially good for the Angels, for many reasons. Trout belted three home runs in a 12-0 victory over Tampa Bay but was practically an afterthought, because 22-year-old rookie lefthander Reid Detmers no-hit the Rays. Chase Silseth, a 23-year-old righthander, was called up from the Rocket City Trash Pandas (really) in Double A and threw six shutout innings and earned the win over Oakland in his big-league debut.
In the off-season, the Angels signed free-agent Noah Syndergaard, the 6ft 6in righthander named “Thor,” to a one-year, $21m contract. Thor appeared as if he’d pitch forever for the New York Mets but was often injured, undergoing Tommy John surgery, so there was some risk on the Angels’ part. But he won three of his first four decisions.
Yes, the Angels could tumble. Trout was hit in his left hand with a pitch in a 17 April game against Texas. X-rays were negative, but it was a scare: Trout missed six weeks with an injury to his left thumb in 2017, after he’d walloped 16 homers in the first two months. Trout also missed 18 games in 2018 because of inflammation in his right wrist and 19 games in 2019 after foot surgery. He injury his calf at this point of the season last year. He was originally expected to miss six to eight weeks but never did come back.
But he is back now, and he and his teammates quickly set a goal to play in the postseason. He gracefully handles being called the best player in baseball, but he acknowledges the best players in any sport still crave the trophies earned by their teams.
“I always try to think positive,” he said in a March interview with CBS Los Angeles. “I have a great organization behind me, a lot of support from my teammates, coaches, front office. It was probably the most frustrating and difficult year of my career so far, not being able to be with my guys.”
But he would add, “It’s still a baseball game. I’m still going out there and playing a game I love. A lot of stuff comes along with that. But for me, once the lights come on and I’m running out there, I just play baseball. That’s the mindset I’ve had since I was a little kid.”