Just like Willie Mays (greenies), Len Dykstra, and Brady Anderson, I am a cheater. There is nothing all that interesting or bizarre about the back of this card. What I love about it is the front of the card: Cal pictured with Henry Louis Gehrig’s Cooperstown plague.
One of my favorite pictures of myself is from my first visit to the Hall of Fame. It was under remodeling at the time and the plagues were all on dry wall basically in an anteroom. However, there was on HoFer (I can’t remember who) between Frank and Brooks Robinson — my father’s gods. That gave just enough room for me to peak my head in between and be snapped between two of the great Orioles and baseball players of all time. It’s a good shot.
However, at this point I have to come clean (are you listening Palmeiro?). I wanted the Orioles to trade Ripken after his brilliant 1991 campaign. Yes, fresh off a .323/.374/.566 season, I thought they should move him. I was foolish and didn’t understand what was to come. I was thinking about all the losing I had experience in my lifetime and how many players Ripken was worth. I was thinking the Orioles could reverse the Glenn Davis damage.
But I was wrong, in fact, nothing could reverse the damage of trading a player like Ripken in his prime — quite simply few players have been equal to him on a baseball diamond.
People like to lump Cal into the accumulator Hall of Fame class. In my opinion, that’s sort of like distinguishing between the guys who earned their millions or were trust funded them – when you get down to it, what’s the real difference? That said, Cal was not just an accumulator, a guy who stuck around for a long time and eventually put up Ruthian numbers (a little like what Eddie Murray did).
Cal was one of the best players ever. Would I believe this as ardently if he wasn’t the best thing to happen to my baseball world in my lifetime (other than Roger Clemens being tied to Roids)? Probably not, but that’s because I’d be ignorant of Cal’s place in history. I would not have tried to defend him and research his awe-inspiring career benchmarks which outshine even the shiniest of Cooperstown plagues. Walk with me…
Cal Ripken has the 13th most hits in history — 3,184. That is more than George Brett, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, etc.
He has the 32nd most singles (with 2,106) — behind Ty Cobb, Pete Rose, Rod Carew, Tris Speaker, Gwynn, Paul Molitor, Stan Musial and Boggs.
That leaves a lot of room for extra base hits. In fact, Ripken hit the 13th most doubles (603) — more than Barry Bonds, Boggs, Gwynn, Lou Gehrig, Frank Robinson and Ted Williams.
He also finished with the 17th most extra base hits with 1,078 and the 13th most total bases: 5,168. While Ripken hung around, he wasn’t hitting wimpy singles, but continually mashing his way to top 20 numbers in power categories.
Still, durability does count (ask Dale Murphy), 19 times Cal Ripken had at least 100 hits. That is tied for the seventh most in history. In addition, 15 times Ripken had over 150 hits — that is tied for the 6th most seasons. In 20 consecutive seasons, Ripken had 10+ HRs. Hank Aaron is the only player to have more years in a row – Aaron did it 23 times.
All those hits put him on his way to scoring the 30th most runs in MLB history: 1,647. That is more than Brett, Rogers Hornsby, and Tim Raines.
All that aside, May 28, 1996 must have been a special day. His brother, Billy hit a HR, and Cal added three! It was the second time both he and Billy hit HRs in the same game.
What gives Ripken so much additional value (and we’ll get to WAR) is his glove. He has the seventh most assists by a SS in a career – he had 6,977. That is behind Ozzie Smith, Louis Aparicio, Luke Appling and a few others. With all those assists, he got to a ton of balls, but still managed to post the fifth best fielding percentage by a shortstop in major league history (min. 1,000 games). He also had excellent years. In 1990, he posted the best fielding average ever by a shortstop in a single season: .9956. He also owns the 11th best year. In 1984, Ripken recorded 583 assists — the 6th most ever in a season.
Now for the new-age stuff: Ripken was worth 89.9 wins above a replacement player in his career. According to Baseball Reference, that is the 26th best mark all time — and, depending, on how you look at Alex Rodriguez, puts him tops among shortstops. In 1991, Ripken was worth 11 WAR — tied for the 30th best mark in a season ever.
Yes, Cal Ripken was an accumulator, but his accumulations were great statistics, not just ho-hum years. Four times, Ripken was worth 7.0 WAR or better. From 1983-1991, he was worth less than 6.0 WAR just once. The rest of his career (1992-2001) was not as good (he averaged 2.4 WAR) but that is just 2 less WAR than Derek Jeter has averaged for his career by way of comparison. Quite simply there are very few men who are Cal’s better on the diamond.
Thank god the Orioles didn’t trade him and thank god for 1983, Cal grew to deserve it.
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