It began, humbly enough, on a Sunday afternoon, May 30, 1982, when 22-year-old Cal Ripken Jr., starting at shortstop and batting eighth, went 0-for-2 in three plate appearances in a 6-0 Orioles loss to the Blue Jays in Baltimore.
Cal Ripken’s consecutive-games streak would last until another Sunday — Sept. 20, 1998, 25 years ago today.
The streak stretched across 16 seasons — up to and through Sept. 6, 1995, when Ripken broke the unbreakable: Lou Gehrig’s ironman streak of 2,130 consecutive games started.
“It is doubtful if any future performer will attempt to go after a new long-distance consecutive-game record,” The Sporting News wrote in May 1939, after Gehrig’s streak ended, a harbinger of a tragic tale.
Toronto’s starter in Game 1 of Ripken’s streak, which grew to 2,632 games, was rookie Jim Gott, who, interestingly, when the streak ended was the only player other than Ripken still active from Game 1.
“It’s almost like the gods of baseball have been looking over him,” Gott told The Sporting News at streak’s end in Baltimore’s last home game of the ’98 season. “He’s the ultimate warrior.”
How else could a player possibly start 2,632 games in a row, over 16 seasons?
A little context here: Ripken broke the record in 1995, a season that began in labor turmoil. MLB, which canceled the 1994 World Series because of a player strike, threatened to use replacement players to start 1995 before a tense labor peace was achieved, but fans were slow to forgive.
The night Ripken broke Gehrig’s mark, The Sporting News was there at Camden Yards and ready with an eight-page special section, referring to Cal as “a manager’s dream” and covering what then-senior writer Michael Knisley recently called “a most memorable night.”
TSN editor-in-chief John Rawlings wrote under the headline “One for the record book”: “Ripken’s record-breaking performance could not come at a better time. In a season wrapped with acrimony, Ripken stands as an icon for what we’d like the sport, and its participants, to be.”
Later in 1995, The Sporting News would name Ripken its Sportsman of the Year.
His streak would last another 300-plus games.
It all came to an end on a fall day in 1998, and The Sporting News chronicled it, just as TSN had when Gehrig started his streak on June 1, 1935, and ended it on May 2, 1939, and when Ripken began his and broke Gehrig’s.
It didn’t dawn on most of the 48,000-plus at Camden Yards that they were witnessing history of a sort — that was rookie Ryan Minor at third base — until the giant video board showed Ripken sitting in the dugout with one out in the top of the first. Only a little more than 20 minutes earlier Ripken had gone to manager Ray Miller’s office to say, “Today’s the day.”
So, again, today’s the day, the 25th anniversary of the end of Cal Ripken Jr.’s streak, that The Sporting News again dares say: It is doubtful if any future performer will attempt to go after a new long-distance consecutive-game record.
So let’s look back at Sept. 20, 1998.
This story, by contributor Dennis Tuttle, first appeared in The Sporting News, covering the events of the evening, under the simple headline, “2,632”:
History blinked and the senses froze at 8:06 p.m. ET last Sunday. After 16 years on the job without vacation, sick leave or phony excuses, Cal Ripken Jr. took a day off. Turns out the man is human, after all.
In one of the most spectacular, if not stunning, spontaneous moments in baseball history, Ripken voluntarily ended his all-time consecutive games streak at 2,632. He is not injured, conceding age, bat speed or — egads! — contemplating retirement. In the simplest analysis possible, it was just that time, he figured.
The truth is, the Orioles’ third baseman had been contemplating ending The Streak since June, when the team was struggling, he wasn’t hitting and the columnists and talk shows were once again calling for him to take time off. When he decided to sit down, he was batting .273 but with just 14 homers and 61 RBIs — all near the bottom for American League third basemen. Front-office insiders say the criticism had stung worse this summer than at any time since The Streak began on May 30, 1982. Ripken admitted that he originally had planned to end The Streak on the last day of the season in Boston, so that the winter would not be rife with speculation.
But he talked over the decision with a small core group that included his wife, family and friends, and decided last Thursday that if he were going to end one of the greatest records in sports, he wanted to do it Sunday in the Orioles’ final home game of the season. And he kept the decision so secret that he knocked on manager Ray Miller’s office door 20 minutes before the game and said, “Today’s the day.”
Miller was shocked and most of the 48,013 at Camden Yards didn’t realize it, even after the game had started. With one out in the Yankees’ first, the giant video screen showed Ripken sitting in the dugout. A few fans stood and cheered, and then the reality — and significance of the moment — spread like brush fire. Camden Yards erupted. Ripken, who saw promising prospect Ryan Minor take his place at third, blushed and was forced to make three curtain calls.
Ripken, who steadfastly, if not stubbornly, refused to sit down through 16 years and eight managers, didn’t speculate far into the future. He is 38, signed through 1999, with a club option for 2000, and says he will prepare in the offseason to play a full 162 games next year. Many within the organization believe that Minor is at least a year away — though Ripken might be considered for a move to first base next season if Rafael Palmeiro leaves via free agency.
And will he sit down more in 1999? “I don’t know if that’ll be good or not,” he said with a smile. “I’ll take it one day at a time.”