Celebrating 60: Cal Ripken Jr. reflects on his Hall of Fame career with the Birds

Cal Ripken, baseball’s Ironman who played in a record 2,632 consecutive games, played in 3,001 games in 21 seasons for his hometown Orioles. He had 3,184 hits, 431 home runs and 1,695 RBIs. He was a 19-time All-Star as well as an American League Rookie of the Year with two AL MVPs and two All-Star Game MVPs. He won a World Series in 1983 and averaged .336 in six postseason series for the Orioles. He was elected to Cooperstown in 2007.

Q: How closely do you follow the Orioles?

A: “I do follow the team pretty closely and with my broadcasting responsibilities for TBS, I have to follow the entire league. I don’t get to the ballpark too often, so I catch the games on MASN and follow the league through MLB.com.”

Q: Do you ever drive by the location of Memorial Stadium and think about the memories there? If so, what comes to mind?

A: “Our foundation, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, actually built our first youth development park on the site of old Memorial so I am there a few times each year. I played half of my career there and the other half at Camden Yards, so I have terrific memories of Memorial Stadium.”

Q: You caught the final out in the 1983 World Series win vs. Philadelphia. What was that feeling like? What happened to the ball?

A: “It is the best baseball moment of my career. I say ‘baseball moment’ because 2,131 was probably the best human moment of my career. But catching that little humpback liner was the completion of an amazing season. At the time, you think that will happen a bunch of times, but it turned out to be the only World Series I would play in. I still have the ball.”

Q: The 1983 season was a success for you at a young age. What did your dad, Cal Sr., say to you that kept you grounded?

A: “Dad never really needed to keep us grounded on a day-to-day basis. He and mom (Violet) instilled that in us all the time. It was a fantastic season on so many levels, but I was surrounded by so many great players and I learned so much from watching guys like Eddie (Murray) and listening to guys like Singy (Ken Singleton).”

Q: What pitcher was the toughest for you to hit and why?

A: “Goose Gossage was always tough because he threw so hard. He had that big windup and his hat pulled low. It seemed like he didn’t know where the ball was going and he didn’t really care. The first time I faced him was the spring after he drilled Ron Cey in the head during the World Series. That was intimidating. After getting to know him and realizing he was a good guy, I started to have greater success again him.”

Q: What did you consider a bigger accomplishment, your career home runs or your career hits?

A: “Oh, I don’t know, I was lucky enough to play a long time and accumulated a good amount of hits and home runs. I guess the fact that not too many guys have more than 3,000 hits I would have to put that up there.”

Q: Was there ever a time when you thought you might be playing for another team? If you could have played for another team, which one would have intrigued you to sign with?

A: “In 1988, we started the year 0-21. Dad was the manager and was fired after our 0-6 start. Then we lost another 15 straight under Frank Robinson. The team wasn’t very good that year and I was upset that dad wasn’t given a better chance after achieving his dream of managing. If the season ended then, I probably would have opted to go elsewhere, but during the course of the season I had a chance to calm down and realize Baltimore is where I wanted to be. When free agency was approaching, there were some guys in New York and Boston talking to me about going there. But looking back, I am glad it worked out the way it did.”

Q: The Ironman Streak. What’s the first image that comes to mind? Any good stories from Joe DiMaggio talking about Lou Gehrig? Didn’t you have the flu the night you set the record?

A: “That was a special night. I remember really wanting to perform in those games and I was able to homer in each game of that series against the Angels. Having Joe DiMaggio there was really cool, and yes, I did have a cold during that time. Maybe I was just run down from all that was going on. I do remember when the game became official and the ovation kept going and going. Raffy (Rafael Palmeiro) and Bobby Bo (Bonilla) said that I will have to take a lap around the stadium so we can get the game going. They shoved me out of the dugout. At first, I really wanted to hurry up and get back to the game, but as I made my way around the track I started to see familiar faces and then I spent some time with the Angels and then my family and I couldn’t care less if the game started again. There was one very special moment when I was looking up into the stands and dad and I locked eyes. A million words were passed just by looking at each other and that was a very powerful and meaningful moment.”

Q: Speaking of the Hall of Fame, finish this sentence, “When I’m there, I still have to pinch myself when I talk baseball with ...”

A: “It’s actually different than that. We all have a common tie and a sense of belonging. I would have loved to talk with someone like Lou Gehrig, but the current Hall of Famers are more like friends. I love going back there and welcoming the new guys and seeing the other Hall of Famers. It will be sad to be back there this year and not have Tony (Gwynn) there with us.”

(Gwynn, who played for the San Diego Padres, and Ripken were inducted together. Gwynn died earlier this year.)