It became official back in June, when Cal Ripken Jr. announced he would retire from professional baseball at the end of the season. Along with Padres legend Tony Gwynn, who made a similar announcement, the rest of 2001 was a farewell tour for both men whose names were inexplicably tied to their respective franchises.
Ripken was named as a starter for the 2001 All-Star Game in Seattle, with Cal famously being moved back to shortstop for an inning by Alex Rodriguez and Joe Torre for one last glance from his longtime position. He also later homered and was awarded his second All-Star Game MVP (first one was 1991), capping his 19 All-Star appearances. Tony Gwynn was added as a nonplayer to the NL squad.
The lovefest for Ripken never ended. Both at home and on the road, people came out in droves to say goodbye to the famous Iron Man, often credited with helping baseball improve its image after the dreaded players strike of 1994. The breaking of the Iron Horse – Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,131 consecutive games in 1995 was seen as a milestone accomplishment not just for Ripken, but for healing the rift between fans and baseball after the strike.
Cal had been with the Orioles in the majors since his cup of coffee in 1981. He played third base early in his career until Earl Weaver moved the 6-foot-4 Ripken over to shortstop, where he would revolutionize the position. Cal had already been a part of the Orioles family long before he was drafted out of high school, as his father, Cal Sr., had been in the Orioles organization as a player, scout, and coach for decades.
With the Orioles having no hope to make the postseason in 2001, originally Cal’s final game as a player was supposed to be at Yankee Stadium. The terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11 caused Major League Baseball to cancel games for a week, and then schedules had to be redone for the missed games. Somehow fittingly, Cal’s final game would be home at Oriole Park.
Before the game there were 45 minutes of tributes and farewells on the field. The Orioles made a large donation to Cal’s future Aberdeen, Maryland, youth complex, and gave him a large hand-drawn portrait of his late father, who died in 1999. There was also a plaque dedicated to Cal Sr. in the Orioles dugout. Several politicians and dignitaries spoke, and Cal’s number 8 was retired, joining Frank Robinson (20), Brooks Robinson (5), Earl Weaver (4), Jim Palmer (22), and Eddie Murray (33) on the immortal list. In fact, the starting lineup from Ripken’s first start in August 1981 took the field along with Earl Weaver. Eddie Murray at first, Rick Dempsey at catcher, and Ken Singleton in right field. Shortstop was left open for the late Mark Belanger. Said Commissioner Bud Selig that evening, “Cal Ripken … has become the symbol for the American work ethic, the symbol for the American working man.”1
After Cal’s mother, Vi, threw out the first pitch, the game got underway with the pitching matchup between David Cone and Rick Bauer. The Orioles struck first, scoring in the bottom of the first on a sacrifice fly by Jeff Conine. Tim Raines Jr. came into score for the only run the Orioles would put up in the game.
Opposing players even marveled how Ripken could have been so good for so long. Said Boston starter David Cone, “He’s such a class act. Cal should be the model for all professional athletes. He stays in incredible shape – you’d have to be to play all those games – and he’s such a consistent performer, which you’d have to be to post up those numbers for 21 years. He’s never had a season in which his numbers were glaringly different. And even at the end, he was still the toughest out for me in the lineup.”2
Boston scored on a two-run homer by Dante Bichette in the second, and Jose Offerman hit another two-run shot in the fifth. Bauer lasted seven innings, giving up seven hits and four earned runs. Cone went eight innings, earning his ninth win of the year. Boston added another run in the top of the ninth on Joe Oliver’s double. Boston finished the night with 12 hits while Baltimore managed only four.
The man of the evening, Ripken, was 0-for-3, finishing his final season with a career-low .239 average. Cal managed to line out to left, pop up to short, and in his final at-bat it was a fly out to center field. A few moments of drama happened in the top of the ninth. Cal waited on deck while Brady Anderson batted and worked a 3-and-2 count. Chants of “We Want Cal” echoed all over the ballpark from the 48,807 fans in attendance. Cal’s career ended in the on-deck circle as Ugueth Urbina mowed down Anderson with a fastball. And just like that, a career was in the books.
Cal was driven around the ballpark after the game in a Corvette. Afterward, the stadium lights went dark and the man himself came to the podium to speak. It took several attempts after fighting back emotion that the Iron Man was able to speak. “One question I’ve repeatedly been asked these last few weeks is how do I want to be remembered,” he said. “My answer has been simple: to be remembered at all is pretty special.”3
The career long devotion of fans to Cal was apparent from every angle. The flashbulbs, the tears, and the numerous ovations easily displayed why Ripken meant so much to Charm City and its working-class roots. Fans easily admit that the city and the Iron Man were clearly a perfect fit.
The accolades did not end with this night for sure. It was a mere six years later that Cal received the ultimate honor and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. And like the Orioles players before him, he too was a first ballot inductee. To this day, the Ripken name carries so much respect and reverence in and around Baltimore.
His longtime teammate and friend Jeff Conine summed up his career almost perfectly by saying, “He’s a competitor on one hand and an icon on the other. He does it as well, if not better than anyone I’ve ever seen.”4
In addition to the sources cited in the Note, the author consulted Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
1 “Baseball Bids Goodbye to No. 8,” Baltimore Sun, October 7, 2001: 8D.
2 “A Final Salute as Ripken Bows Out,” New York Times, October 7, 2001: 8.
3 “Ripken: Tonight Closes a Chapter of a Dream,” Baltimore Sun, October 7, 2001: 12D.
4 “Baseball Bids Goodbye to No. 8” : 9D.