Billy Ripken

July 11, 1987: Bill Ripken’s major-league debut makes it an Orioles family trio

This article was written by Richard Cuicchi

Billy RipkenWhen second baseman Bill Ripken was named to the Double-A Southern League All-Star team in 1986, the stars seemed to be aligning for him to join his father, Cal Sr., and older brother, Cal Jr., in the big leagues with the Baltimore Orioles. The elder Ripkens had already spent several years together in the majors, with Cal Sr. serving as third-base coach and shortstop Cal Jr. establishing himself as one of the game’s top players.

The three Ripkens made history a year later. Cal Sr. was named Baltimore’s manager for the 1987 season. When Bill was called up to the Orioles in July 1987, it was the first time a father managed two sons on the same big-league team.

Baltimore selected Bill out of high school in the 11th round of the June 1982 amateur draft, and he began his professional career that summer. By that time, Cal Jr. was in his first full major-league season, when he captured American League Rookie of the Year honors and started the consecutive games played streak that eventually broke Lou Gehrig’s big-league record. A season later in 1983, Cal Jr. won the AL MVP Award after leading Baltimore to a World Series title.

After 18 years as a minor-league player and manager in the Orioles organization, Cal Sr. became an Orioles coach in 1976. He helped usher Cal Jr. into his major-league career. When Earl Weaver retired for the second time after the 1986 season, Cal Sr. was rewarded with a promotion to manager.

The 1987 Orioles got off to an encouraging start. At the end of May, they were 26-23, in fourth place in the AL East Division. But disaster hit in June as Baltimore won only five of 28 games.

One of the Orioles’ trouble spots was at second base. Rich Dauer had held down second in Baltimore for a nearly a decade, but he retired after the 1985 season. After Dauer, the Orioles had tried several veterans at second: Alan Wiggins, Juan Bonilla, Jackie Gutiérrez, and Rick Burleson.

Burleson, Baltimore’s second baseman on Opening Day 1987, was released on July 11, batting only .209 with 2 homers and 14 RBIs, and Bill Ripken was promoted to replace him.1 The 22-year-old was batting .286 for Triple-A Rochester when he got his call-up.2

Bill was keenly aware his stay in the big leagues was not guaranteed.3 “This is my dream, but I will not stay here just because I want to stay here or it looks good in the papers. I have gotten my shot, and I have to do something with it.”4

Cal Jr. had secured his fifth All-Star selection, batting .272 with 17 home runs and 56 RBIs.

Cal Sr. was obviously pleased by Billy’s promotion but tried to downplay the family-relationship aspect. He said, “We go on the recommendations of the people down there [with Rochester]. They feel he can help us, so we’ll bring him up and see.”5

Bill made his major-league debut on July 11 in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium against the Minnesota Twins. It was the Saturday before the All-Star break, and the Orioles were in sixth place in the AL East Division, 19½ games behind the first-place New York Yankees. Even after Friday’s 13-12 win over the Twins, who were leading the AL West, Baltimore had won only eight of its past 40 games. Only the Cleveland Indians trailed the Orioles in the AL East.

Before the game, Cal Sr. was all business with Bill’s arrival, reminding him about learning the signs, dealing with days he wouldn’t play, and being pulled for a pinch-hitter. Cal Sr. said, “I’d rather win ballgames than worry about history. I’ll have plenty of time in later years for the enjoyment of the family part of this.”6

Cal Jr. didn’t try to hide his feelings about sharing the clubhouse with his brother. He said, “This is something you thought about from time to time. But it seemed like it was too far-fetched, like it wouldn’t become a reality.”7

The Twins’ veteran left-hander Frank Viola and the Orioles’ right-hander Mike Griffin were tasked with the starting-pitcher assignments in the night game, before a crowd of 25,690. Viola had given up only five earned runs in his last 33 innings after he completed this game, while Griffin had won his first major-league game in nearly six years on July 6 against the Chicago White Sox. (He did not play in the majors from 1983 to 1986.)

Baltimore was trying for consecutive wins for the first time since May 27-28. Cal Sr. started Bill at second base and put him in the seventh slot of the batting lineup. His double-play partner, Cal Jr., was batting third and appearing in his 852nd consecutive game.

With the game scoreless in the bottom of the second inning, Bill grounded to shortstop in his first at-bat.

Baltimore scored in the bottom of the third. Left fielder Ron Washington, a 35-year-old veteran who had been called up from Rochester the day before Bill, singled in Dave Van Gorder, who walked and advanced to second base on Wiggins’ single. Washington’s hit came on a high-hopping groundball that third baseman Gary Gaetti lost in the lights or the crowd.

Minnesota countered in the top of the fourth with an opposite-field solo home run by left-handed hitter Randy Bush, his sixth of the season.

Minnesota had a good chance to add to its runs in the top of the fifth, when Roy Smalley walked and Tim Laudner singled with no outs. But Griffin got out of trouble with three fly-ball outs.

Bill drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the fifth. He reached third base on Van Gorder’s single but ended up being stranded because Viola struck out the next two batters.8

Gaetti, whose misplay had contributed to the Orioles’ run, hit his 16th homer of the season, a 400-foot solo shot over the left-center-field fence, in the top of the sixth to break the 1-1 tie. It was Gaetti’s first home run in 16 games.

In the top of the seventh, the Twins loaded the bases with two outs, with Al Newman’s double accounting for the only hit. The other two baserunners came on a hit batsman and intentional walk. Griffin, however, retired Gaetti on a line drive to center to stymie the Twins’ rally.

Bill led off the Orioles’ seventh with a popup to the catcher on an attempted bunt. In his final plate appearance, with one out in the ninth, Ray Knight was on second and Bill had a chance to tie the score. He grounded out again, but advanced Knight to third. Pinch-hitter Mike Young represented another chance to tie the game, but he also grounded out to end the game with the Orioles losing, 2-1.

Both Viola and Griffin went the distance, with Viola giving up eight hits and Griffin five. Viola picked up his eighth win, holding Cal Jr. hitless in four plate appearances.9 The Twins’ win was only their fourth in their last 15 road games.10

Bill’s first game was uneventful from an offensive standpoint, but he had faced one of the AL leaders in ERA and strikeouts. With Bill in the lineup, the Orioles won their next 11 games. He went on to collect hits in 44 of his 57 games after his debut, including eight games with three hits. He finished the season with a .308 batting average, 2 home runs, and 20 RBIs. His results gave the Orioles hope that they had found another Ripken gem.

Cal Sr. was fired after losing the first six games in 1988 and was replaced by Frank Robinson. Cal Jr. and Bill continued to play together through the 1992 season, after which Bill was released. They were teammates again when Bill signed as a free agent with the Orioles before the 1996 season.

As of the end of the 2023 season, the Ripken brothers were one of nearly 100 sets of brothers who had played together on a major-league team.11 Frank and Milt Bolling had been the last set of brothers to form a double-play combo, in 1958 with the Detroit Tigers.12

Major-league players who had previously played for their fathers included Earle Mack (for his father, Connie) and Dale Berra (for his father, Yogi). But there had never been a pair of brother teammates that played under their father – until the Ripkens.13

The Ripkens were the third family to have three members on the same team. Brothers Felipe, Matty, and Jesus Alou played together for the 1963 San Francisco Giants. Brothers Jose, Hector, and Tommy Cruz were teammates on the 1973 St. Louis Cardinals.




This article was fact-checked by Bill Marston and copy-edited by Len Levin.



In addition to the sources listed in the Notes, the author consulted:

Baker, Kent. “Twins’ Viola, 2 Homers Stifle Orioles, 2-1,” Baltimore Sun, July 12, 1987: C1.

Singer, Patti. “Family Reunion in Baltimore,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 11, 1987: 1D.

Steadman, John. “Ripkens Hold a Special Place Among Baseball’s More Notable Family Acts,” Baltimore Sun, July 14, 1987: B2.



1 Tim Kurkjian, “Orioles Release Burleson, Call Up Billy Ripken: Didn’t Produce, Veteran Admits,” Baltimore Sun, July 11, 1987: 1C.

2 Kent Baker, “Orioles Release Burleson, Call Up Billy Ripken: Family Makes Baseball History,” Baltimore Sun, July 11, 1987: 1C.

3 Newspaper reports of Bill Ripken’s promotion noted that another second-base prospect, 23-year-old Pete Stanicek, had been promoted from Double A to replace Ripken in Rochester. Tim Kurkjian, “Moving Up: Stanicek Takes Over at Second at Rochester,” Baltimore Sun, July 11, 1987: 6C.

4 Harry Rosenfeld, Iron Man: The Cal Ripken Jr. Story (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 122.

5 Baker, “Orioles Release Burleson, Call Up Billy Ripken.”

6 Kent Baker, “Dad Downplays Billy’s Orioles Debut,” Baltimore Sun, July 12, 1987: 9C.

7 Baker, “Dad Downplays Billy’s Orioles Debut.”

8 This was the final game of Van Gorder’s five-season major-league career. The Orioles outrighted him to Triple A a day later, and he finished his professional career with Rochester. Ken Rosenthal, “The Oriole Shuffle Is Over, for Now at Least,” Baltimore Evening Sun, July 13, 1987: C5.

9 Minnesota ended up winning the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, and Viola was named the Series MVP.

10 The Twins were notoriously weak on the road for the1987 season, posting a 29-52 record.

11 “Brothers as Teammates in MLB history,”, Accessed September 21, 2023.

12 Identical twins Eddie and Johnny O’Brien also preceded the Ripkens as a double-play combo with the 1953 Pittsburgh Pirates, as did Granny and Garvin Hamner with the 1945 Phillies.

13 From 1992 to 1996, Felipe Alou managed his son, Moises Alou, and nephew Mel Rojas with the Montreal Expos.

Additional Stats

Minnesota Twins 2
Baltimore Orioles 1

Memorial Stadium
Baltimore, MD


Box Score + PBP:

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1980s ·