Birth of streak was 'just another game'
Twenty-five years ago, Ripken was simply getting started
BALTIMORE -- Twenty-five years ago, Cal Ripken Jr. was a young ballplayer just trying to make his name in the game. He'd just barely started the consecutive games streak that would ultimately make him famous and a no-brainer inductee to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. At that point, Ripken was better known as the coach's son.
His streak started on May 30, 1982 -- and he didn't play shortstop. Ripken played third base in a game started by Baltimore icon Jim Palmer, and the Orioles took a 6-0 loss to Toronto. A legend was launched that day, though, and Ripken went on to play 2,632 straight games, a run that took him to September of the 1995 season.
"I really don't remember it because it was just another game," Ripken wrote recently in an e-mail exchange. "It is hard to believe that it was 25 years ago. I can't believe how fast the first years since I retired have gone!"
Ripken went 0-for-2 that day, but manager Earl Weaver kept pencilling his name into the lineup. Ripken had gone through a terrible slump in April, but Weaver gave the future slugger every opportunity to establish himself.
"I went 3-for-5 on Opening Day and then something like four for my next 64," Ripken said of a .123 average in April that could've stalled his career. "Earl Weaver stuck with me and believed in me, and back then he really called the shots regarding the roster. Once I knew that I was staying up and that he believed in me, I started to relax a little bit and feel more comfortable and I had a really strong second half. I guess that is when I started to feel comfortable.
"I remember during my struggles we were in Anaheim, and Reggie Jackson approached me and told me that I had the skills to play at this level and that I just needed to relax. That really made me feel good and it helped me."
Jackson, a future Hall of Famer in his own right, could see talent across the field. Ripken's baseball instincts and education were partly what made him so ready to start as a rookie, and the man responsible for that nurturing was never far away. Cal Ripken Sr., the infielder's father and namesake, was part of Baltimore's coaching staff.
That meant that every game was a tutorial, much like it had been back in simpler days for the Ripken family. Every triumph and every disappointment was experienced first-hand by father and son, a rare baseball development, indeed. During those first few shaky months, Ripken Jr. never had to go too far to seek his father's counsel.
"It was always great to have dad around," he said. "He was a great resource for me and he knew instantly how to help me when I was struggling. Coming up though high school and when I first got drafted, there was some pressure being Cal Ripken's kid, but having him on the big-league staff when I made it up was great."
Ripken didn't only look up to his dad -- he had a whole clubhouse full of ballplayers with winning experience around him. Baltimore went on to finish second in 1982, and Ripken earned the Rookie of the Year Award while learning how to prepare himself professionally. One year later, he won the MVP Award and the Orioles won the World Series.
"It didn't take long to fit in," he said. "The Orioles' clubhouse when I first came up was amazing and very professional. They didn't believe in that rookie initiation stuff. If you made it to the Majors, you were immediately part of the team. Having guys like Eddie Murray, Doug DeCinces and Al Bumbry to learn from was a great asset."
Though Ripken would later become nearly synonymous with shortstop play, he spent a lot of time at third in '82. And while he'd rarely have to check the lineup card later in his baseball life, he had to do it every day, at first.
"The manager always had the ability to play whoever he wanted to play and whoever he thought would give him the best chance to win on a given day," he said, remembering his early days. "Remember that my first few managers were guys like Earl Weaver, Joe Altobelli and Frank Robinson. These were established, strong baseball men. ...
"I do remember the day that Earl moved me from third to short. I honestly thought that he made a mistake and wrote a "5" instead of a "6" by accident. When I asked him about it he just said, 'Yeah, you're playing shortstop.' "
And with those unassuming words, a legendary career took root.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.