COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – It was just another day at the office.
Shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. showed up for work to do the same thing he had done in 2,129 straight games. His Baltimore Orioles, the franchise he spent his entire Major League career with, were 13 games under .500 playing on a Tuesday night in September. Ripken celebrated his 35th birthday two weeks prior and was playing in the tail end of a nine-game homestand.
But was Ripken about to take a sick day after showing up for work every day for the past 15 seasons?
Not a chance.
When Ripken suited up on Sept. 5, 1995 – 17 years ago this week – he tied Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig by appearing in his 2,130th consecutive game.
“Cal (Ripken, Jr.) is a bridge, maybe the last bridge, back to the way the game was played,” Joe Torre said. “Hitting home runs and all that other good stuff is not enough. It's how you handle yourself in all the good times and bad times that matters. That's what Cal showed us. Being a star is not enough. He showed us how to be more.”
While Ripken was honored for showing up to the ballpark, as usual, he did more than that. The future Hall of Famer went 3-for-5 with a home run to fuel the Orioles 8-0 win against the California Angels.
Gehrig’s 56-year old record was broken the following night in front of the Camden Yards faithful when Ripken played in his 2,131st consecutive game. Just as he did the night before, Ripken homered despite all the attention on his monumental streak.
Ripken was showered with a standing ovation following the top of the fifth inning when the game became official. The nationally televised game captured a 22-minute, commercial free standing ovation from fans, teammates, opposing players and even umpires. It was only fitting that the player known as “Iron Man” received an ovation that was one of the longest in sports history.
“No one's ever had that aura like he had it,” said former All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling. “No one's ever done it the way he did it, in every way.”
The streak lasted 2,632 games until Ripken decided to take a day off on Sept. 20, 1998. The mark is considered one of the most unbreakable records not only in baseball, but in all of sports.
“It's one of the great achievements in the history of sports,” said Orioles owner Peter Angelos. “Cal Ripken embodies all that the Orioles stand for, all that Baltimore stands for and, really, all that this country stands for in terms of his dedication and work ethic.”
When Ripken announced he would retire at the conclusion of the 2001 season, he provided baseball fans with another trademark moment in the All-Star Game. Playing in his 19th All-Star Game, Ripken was voted in by the fans to start. Ripken stepped to the plate for his first at-bat to a lengthy ovation by the Safeco Field crowd.
With all eyes on him once again, Ripken put his head down and went to work.
In storybook fashion, the 40-year-old Ripken rocketed Chan Ho Park’s first pitch over the left field wall. Ripken’s heroics earned him All-Star Game MVP honors as he became the first player to ever win the award in different decades.
“There are only a couple of people in the game who could do that: Step out of the box, thank the fans for their ovation, get back in there, regain concentration for a split second and then hit a 93-mph fastball over the left-center field fence,” said Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn. “It was unbelievable.”
It comes as no surprise that when Ripken was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, a record 82,000 people were on hand to witness his enshrinement. Needless to say, Ripken’s record and place in baseball history are safe.
“I'd like to be remembered,” Ripken said. “I'd like to think that someday two guys will be talking in a bar and one of them will say something like, 'Yeah, he's a good shortstop, but he's not as good as ol' Ripken was.’”
Connor O’Gara was the 2012 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development