Cal Ripken Jr.’s retirement revisited 20 years later
Cal Ripken Jr. has now been retired for almost as long as he has been playing. This year marked the 20th anniversary of Ripken’s last game, when the baseball world came down to Baltimore to say goodbye to their Iron Man.
This 5-1 loss to the Red Sox on October 6, 2001 marked the end of a singular Hall of Fame career, one of the most notable in the history of American professional sports. In 21 seasons spent entirely with the Orioles, Ripken, a native of the Baltimore area, has formed 19 All-Star teams, won two MVP awards and a World Series, while revolutionizing the shortstop position and beating the most unbreakable record in sport.
Only eight players in Major League history have played more games than Cal Ripken Jr, and none have played more consecutively than the 2,632 he played from 1982 to 1998. He became the Iron Man of the baseball on September 6, 1995, surpassing Lou Gehrig’s 2130-game streak that lasted 56 years. Ripken became a national icon that night, his streak resonating beyond the pitch for its themes of hard work, dedication, persistence, and persistence.
Six years later, the 48,807 fans who packed Camden Yards for the Orioles’ otherwise insignificant season finale did so for this Ripken, the one they, for two full decades, could still count on. At 41, Ripken announced in June that the 2001 season would be his last, after missing parts of the previous two seasons with injury. Ripken performed through countless bumps and bruises (and hospital visits) during his streak. But after voluntarily ending it in 1998, years of wear and tear began to take their toll. He also began to think more about his life after baseball.
“In recent years, I’ve noticed that I miss being away from home,” Ripken told The Associated Press at his retired press conference. “I don’t see it as an end so much. I’m not stopping anything. I’m just going ahead.
For everyone else, however, the event marked the occasion to say goodbye. The New York Times called it “the culmination, the celebration, the grand finale and the farewell of one of the most remarkable sporting careers.” The Gardeners mowed down a giant “8” in center field for the final game, and the Orioles honored Ripken with a 45-minute video before the first pitch. He finished without a hitting in three batting, closing a career Ripken has concluded with 3,184 hits, 431 homers and nearly every Oriole record imaginable.
Some of the best players of the following generations – Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and, ultimately, Fernando Tatis Jr. and others – have fit into his mold. But 20 years later, there hasn’t been another Cal Ripken Jr. There probably never will be.
“I’ve been thinking over the last few days what I’m going to miss, and I think it will be mostly what happened outside the white lines of the playing field,” Ripken told The Times over the weekend. “Of course, I will miss the competition, the tension of the matches. But I think it will be the journey, the sitting around the stadium, on the buses, the rowdy locker room, the camaraderie – the people – that I will miss the most.