Year Inducted: 2007 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 537/545)
Coming back from the 1994 player’s strike was the most difficult thing baseball has ever had to do. Literally, the sport had to be brought back from the dead. In order to do that, it needed something to rally around; in short, a hero. While the Home Run Race of 1998 would be a big draw, it wouldn’t have had the same effect if one man made himself into a legend simply by going to work every day, and playing one of the hardest positions on the diamond. In one of its dark times, baseball turned to Cal Ripken Jr and his quest to become the Iron Man.
While he is most famous for his 2632 consecutive games streak, Ripken was a player that was often credited with reinventing the shortstop position. With Ripken, a 6’4″ well-built player, shortstops were no longer seen as the tiny, scrappy players. Instead, Ripken showed that not only can big men play the position, they can excel there for many years. Ripken played in Baltimore for his entire 21-year career. Ripken slashed .276/.340/.447 for a wRC+ of 112. One of only a small handful of players to reach both the 3000 hit (3184) and 400 home run (431), Ripken also collected 603 doubles and 44 triples. Ripken was a tremendous run producer, driving in and scoring over 1600 runs each.
Ripken was one of the first real sluggers at the shortstop position, a transition that dated back to the days of Ernie Banks, actually. However, unlike Banks, Ripken was able to (or, more aptly, allowed to) stick at the shortstop position for a considerable length of time. Mostly, this was due to his fielding ability. Ripken may not have been Ozzie Smith defensively, but he more than held his own, retiring with 310 defensive runs, even with a position change towards the end of his career. If he were a better baserunner (only 36 steals and -11 runs on the bases), Ripken would probably be competing with Willie Mays as one of the most complete players of all-time.
And, on that chilly September night in 1995, Ripken officially reached a milestone that no one ever thought possible. A record that had come to represent the working man, Lou Gehrig’s 2130 consecutive game streak was a record thought untouchable by most people. To have it broken was amazing, and to have it done by a shortstop was even moreso as they take their fair share of hits (runners sliding hard trying to steal or break up a double play, etc.). Ripken’s body took its fair share of abuse, and with Ripken never missing a game until late in 1998, he never took time to recover when he was badly hurt. This hastened a decline period for Ripken that saw him go from being well above average to a slightly below average hitter for quite a few years in the 1990’s until his retirement in 2001.
There are no legitimate baseball arguments against Cal Ripken’s induction. Yet, even he, one of the more modern day heroes of the game, couldn’t gain unanimous entry into the Hall of Fame. There were eight writers who didn’t vote for Ripken, on a fairly weak ballot, most likely because that same year McGwire debuted on the ballot, and writers wanted to take a “stand” against players suspected of steroids that some felt clouded the whole period that both players played in. Ripken may not have been unanimous, but he certainly is one of the best players to ever step on the ballfield.
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