Tuesday, April 10, 2012

All-Time Bluefield Team - Cal Ripken Jr.

The next entry on the All-Time Bluefield to the Bigs Team features one of two Hall of Famers on the roster. The shortstop is the greatest player to come through Bluefield, Cal Ripken.

The 48th overall pick in the 1978 draft, the Aberdeen native was taken after Rex Hudler, Dave Valle, Danny Heep, Mel Hall, among others. Also going before Ripken were 24 players that never made it to the show.*

* The top five picks in that draft were Bob Horner, Lloyd Moseby, Hubie Brooks, Mike Morgan and Andy Hawkins. Obviously Ripken is way above those guys, but all five had solid big-league careers.

He wasn't quite the Iron Man in his professional debut, playing in 63 of 69 games for Bluefield in 1979. He didn't post big numbers there, batting .264 and slugging a mere .301 while leading the Appy League in errors with 33.

He improved the following year in the Florida State League and moved up the ranks to Double-A Charlotte, then to Triple-A Rochester. While at Triple-A, he played in the longest game in baseball history, a 33-inning contest between his Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox.*

*On April 18, 1981, the game was tied through 32 innings before being suspended. The Red Wings broke a scoreless tie in the seventh before Pawtucket sent the game into extras with a run in the bottom of the ninth. The two clubs traded single tallies in the 21st inning and the score held at 2-2 when the game was suspended after the 32nd inning at 4:09 a.m. The game was resumed on June 23 and only took 18 minutes to finish, with Dave Koza's bases-loaded single plating Marty Barrett with the winning run for the Red Sox. Ripken went 2-for-13 and played all 33 innings at third base. His hot-corner counterpart had himself a great MLB career as well...Wade Boggs.

Ripken made his big league debut less than two months after the conclusion of that famous game. On August 10 in Baltimore, he pinch ran for Ken Singleton in the bottom of the 12th inning of a tie game against Kansas City. Singleton had doubled to start the frame and after Ripken ran for him, Eddie Murray was intentionally walked. John Lowenstein was next and he singled to bring home Ripken and give the O's a walk-off win.

That's the only run Ripken scored in the bigs in '81. He struggled at the plate in 23 games, going 5-for-39 (.128).

He became the regular shortstop for Baltimore in 1982 and made the most of his playing time. He slugged 28 homers and knocked in 93 runs, primarily out of the six spot in the order. He took home AL Rookie of the year honors, garnering 24 of 28 first-place votes to beat Kent Hrbek and Boggs.

On May 30 of that season, the Orioles lost at home to the Blue Jays 6-0. Jim Gott and Roy Lee Jackson combined for a one-hit shutout and Ripken, batting eighth and playing third base, went 0-for-2 with a walk. No one knew at the time that it was the start of an incredible streak in which Ripken played every single Orioles game until September 19, 1998. The Iron Man streak surpassed Lou Gehrig's hallowed string of 2,130 consecutive games played and finally ended at 2,632.

He had a huge year in 1983, leading the league in hits (211), runs (121), doubles (47) and bWAR (8.3). One player leading the league in all four categories has only happened 11 times:

Year Player
1901 Nap Lajoie
1911 Ty Cobb
1914 Benny Kauff *
1921 Rogers Hornsby
1922 Rogers Hornsby
1924 Rogers Hornsby
1937 Joe Medwick
1946 Stan Musial
1948 Stan Musial
1983 Cal Ripken
2003 Albert Pujols

*Benny Kauff pulled the trick in the Federal League for the Indianapolis Hoosiers

Ripken helped lead the O's to the World Series crown in 1983 and secured the final out when he snared a Garry Maddox liner to end Game Five. He edged teammate Eddie Murray 322-290 to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Here are all the times that teammates have finished 1-2 in the MVP voting:

Year Team MVP Runner-Up
2000 NL
SF Jeff Kent Barry Bonds
1990 NL PIT Barry Bonds Bobby Bonilla
1989 NL SF Kevin Mitchell Will Clark
1983 AL BAL Cal Ripken Eddie Murray
1976 NL CIN Joe Morgan George Foster
1971 AL OAK Vida Blue Sal Bando
1968 AL DET Denny McLain Bill Freehan
1967 NL STL Orlando Cepeda Tim McCarver
1966 AL BAL Frank Robinson Brooks Robinson
1965 AL MIN Zoilo Versalles Tony Oliva
1962 AL NYY Mickey Mantle
Bobby Richardson
1961 AL NYY Roger Maris Mickey Mantle
1960 AL NYY Roger Maris Mickey Mantle
1960 NL PIT Dick Groat Don Hoak
1959 AL CWS Nellie Fox Luis Aparicio
1956 AL NYY Mickey Mantle Yogi Berra
1956 NL BKN Don Newcombe Sal Maglie
1955 NL BKN Roy Campanella Duke Snider
1945 AL DET Hal Newhouser Eddie Mayo
1944 AL DET Hal Newhouser Dizzy Trout
1943 NL STL Stan Musial Walker Cooper
1942 NL STL Mort Cooper Enos Slaughter
1941 NL BKN Dolph Camilli Pete Reiser
1934 AL DET Mickey Cochrane
Charlie Gehringer

Also interesting that there have been three 1-2-3 teammate finishes. Boog Powell came in third behind the Robinsons in 1966. The 1959 Go-Go Sox had Early Wynn behind the Fox-Aparicio double-play combo, and Whit Wyatt of the 1941 Dodgers was third behind teammates Camilli and Reiser.

Despite posting similar numbers the following season, and leading the league in bWAR again with 9.2, Ripken only received a single tenth-place MVP vote as Baltimore finished in fifth place. Keeping with their bizarre infatuation with closers, the writers gave the award to Willie Hernandez of the Tigers.

Ripken enjoyed another amazing season in 1991. He put up a .323/.374/.566 slash line, rapped 210 hits, hit 34 homers and drove in 114 runs, all while leading the American League in both offensive and defensive WAR. His total bWAR of 11.0 is tied for 30th on the single-season list. That number is tied with Alex Rodriguez (2000) for the second-best bWAR by a shortstop, just behind Robin Yount's 1982 campaign (11.5) He led the league in total bases, one of only six shortstops to do so:

Year Player TB
1918 Charlie Hollocher202
1958 Ernie Banks 379
1965 Zoilo Versalles 308
1982 Robin Yount 367
1991 Cal Ripken 368
1996 Alex Rodriguez 379
2001 Alex Rodriguez 393
2002 Alex Rodriguez 389

*Hollocher is the one unfamiliar name, he was the Cubs shortstop from 1918-24. He led the NL in bWAR, hits and total bases as a rookie for the pennant-winning Cubs. In the World Series, the Red Sox won four one-run games to take down Chicago in six games and somewhat famously did not win the title again for 86 years. Mysterious stomach pains would cut Hollocher's career short and tragically, he committed suicide in 1940 at the age of 44.

Ripken was awarded his second MVP for his great season. He also won a Gold Glove and MVP of the All-Star Game. His MVP season was more impressive considering that his 95-win Orioles team did not have much of a supporting cast around him. That club closed down venerable Memorial Stadium with a whimper. In the ballpark's final game on October 6, 1991, the home team was shut down by a 38-year-old Frank Tanana as the Tigers won 7-1. Ripken ended the O's 38-year run at the park by grounding into a game-ending double play.

As the Orioles opened the sparkling new Camden Yards to commence the great ballpark boom of the 90's, Ripken crept closer to Gehrig's consecutive games record.

He finally tied it on September 5, 1995, at home against the California Angels. Fittingly, he homered in the sixth inning after officially registering game number 2,130.

He passed the Gehrig the next night, and fittingly homered again in the inning before the game and the record became official. When Damion Easley popped out to second baseman Manny Alexander (another former Bluefield Oriole) to end the top of the fifth inning, the 2,131 banner unfurled from the warehouse beyond the right-field wall. Coming on the heels of the 1994 strike and ensuing fan rage, the celebration and Ripken's 22-minute lap around Camden Yards is one of the indelible moments in baseball history.

* Interesting notes from that game: Mike Mussina won it and Jesse Orosco recorded the save. That 1995 Angels team was in the midst of a free fall that the math wizards CoolStandings.com deemed the worst collapse of all time. Ripken's homer in the record breaker immediately followed a go-ahead homer from Bobby Bonilla. The shot was surrendered by Shawn Boskie, a little-remembered righty who was the tenth-overall pick in the 1986 draft by the Cubs out of Modesto Junior College. Chicago took another player from that school in the third round. He went back to school though, only to land with the rival Cardinals the following year, one of my old favorites: Ray Lankford.

In 1996 he hit 26 homers and drove in 102 runs while batting mostly in the sixth spot in a very potent lineup. That was Brady Anderson's 50-homer season, and Bonilla and Chris Hoiles had productive seasons as well. But what was unique about this team was its infield. The O's became the third team to have four infielders hit 20 or more home runs:

Year Team 1B 2B SS 3B
1940 BOS Jimmie Foxx Bobby Doerr Joe Cronin Jim Tabor
1986 DET Darrell Evans Lou Whitaker Alan Trammell Darnell Coles
1996 BAL Rafael Palmeiro Roberto Alomar Cal Ripken B.J. Surhoff
2004 CWS Paul Konerko Juan Uribe Jose Valentin Joe Crede
2004 TEX Mark Teixeira Alfonso Soriano Michael Young Hank Blalock
2005 TEX Mark Teixeira Alfonso Soriano Michael Young Hank Blalock
2008 FLA Mike Jacobs Dan Uggla Hanley Ramirez Jorge Cantu
2009 TEX Chris Davis Ian Kinsler Michael Young Hank Blalock*

* Blalock played more first base than third in 2009; both Davis and Blalock saw the majority of their playing time at first that year.

The '96 O's were the first team with seven 20+ HR players and with 257 total dingers they broke the single-season record set by the 1961 Yankees.

With his best days behind him, a 36-year-old Ripken moved from shortstop to third base in 1997, where he spent the last five years of his career.

Ripken's streak came to an end on September 20, 1998, when Baltimore took the field with former Bluefield Oriole Ryan Minor at third base batting sixth. When it was announced that Ripken was sitting out that night, the Camden Yards crowd gave him a huge ovation while his teammates and the opposing Yankees got on the top step of their dugouts to join in.

In 1999, he got hurt and missed the last two weeks of the season while sitting on 2,991 career hits. He had to wait until the following season to get number 3,000, and he got it on April 15, 2000 at the Metrodome as he capped a three-hit night.

Ripken announced early in 2001 that he would be retiring at season's end. At the All-Star Game in Seattle, he and Tony Gwynn, another retiring legend, were honored for their great careers. In the game, Ripken started at third base, but switched to his original shortstop position at the behest of Alex Rodriguez. In his first at bat, he clubbed the first pitch he saw from Chan Ho Park for a home run. He joined Willie Mays, Steve Garvey and the late Gary Carter as the only players to win two All-Star Game MVPs.

The 3,001st and final game of Ripken's career came on October 6, 2001 in front of the home fans in Baltimore. He hit a flyout to center off David Cone in his final plate appearance.

Ripken and Gwynn were enshrined at Cooperstown in 2007, both on the first ballot. Only Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan have received a bigger share of the vote than Ripken's 98.5 percent.

After retiring, Ripken got into minor league ownership. Ripken Baseball is the ownership group at the helm of his hometown Aberdeen IronBirds in the New York-Penn League. In addition to the Orioles' Short-Season A club, they also own the low-A Augusta Greenjackets in the Sally League and the high-A Charlotte Stone Crabs in the Florida State League.

Ripken Baseball is huge in the amateur baseball community. Being in Myrtle Beach last season, I got a chance to check out their facility down there. It's impressive and I loved how the fields are modeled after old parks like Ebbets Field, Griffith Stadium and the Polo Grounds.*

*Ripken was in MB last year for a youth tourney and he brought the team to BB&T Coastal Field (the home of the Pelicans) to work out beforehand. He took time after the workout to meet us Pelicans front office folks and sign some autographs, even though they were running late. Very generous and seems like a good guy.

As amazing as the streak was, I think people tend to overlook Ripken's other career accomplishments. He had a great and lengthy prime, from 1983-1991 (age 22-30), his 128 OPS+ was the 15th best in the major leagues. However, all of the 14 players ahead of him played on the corners in the infield or outfield. In terms of Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement, his total of 62 (a HOF career's worth in just nine years) ranked third over that span, just behind Boggs and Rickey Henderson.

For his career, he hit 431 home runs and tallied 3,184 hits. He ranks 14th on the all-time hit list, but he will likely drop to 15th later this year since Derek Jeter only needs 97 hits this season to pass him. He is one of only 14 players to knock 600 or more doubles (603). With 19 consecutive All-Star selections, only Hank Aaron (21), Willie Mays (20) and Stan Musial (20) have more.

He is one of only 36 players to play with only one team in their career for 2000 or more games. His 3,001 games are the third-highest total behind Carl Yastrzemski and Stan Musial. Todd Helton is the most recent player to join the group. Ichiro should get there next year if he re-signs with the Mariners for 2013 and if they both hang around until early 2015, Michael Young and Jimmy Rollins could reach that milestone as well.

Although his .276 batting average and .340 on base percentage are the lowest among those in the 3,000 hit club, and his 112 OPS+ is third lowest ahead of Craig Biggio and Lou Brock, Ripken was not just some guy who hung around long enough to reach big career stat markers.

Ripken revolutionized the shortstop position. Along with Robin Yount and Alan Trammell (who doesn't get his due), he transformed it from an all-field, no-hit place in the lineup into a heart-of-the-order producer. That legacy of a big bat that still plays that premium position well in the field was picked up by Barry Larkin, then Alex Rodriguez, and is still carried on by Troy Tulowitzki.

He is on the short list of the greatest shortstops of all time. Here's the top ten in bWAR (at least 60% of career games at SS):

Shortstop     bWAR
Honus Wagner 116.5
Cal Ripken 89.9
Arky Vaughan 75.6
Derek Jeter 70.4
Luke Appling 69.3
Barry Larkin 68.9
Alan Trammell 66.9
Pee Wee Reese 66.7
Ozzie Smith 64.6
Joe Cronin 62.5

* Wagner actually stands at 134.5; the list is only from 1901 so it cuts off Wagner's first four seasons. Alex Rodriguez would rank second on this list and Robin Yount would rank fourth, but at around 54 percent of games at SS, they miss the cutoff.

Ripken is one of 22 players to win both a Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player award, but only nine of those players have also been elected to the Hall of Fame:

Jackie Robinson
Willie Mays
Frank Robinson
Orlando Cepeda
Willie McCovey
Rod Carew
Johnny Bench
Cal Ripken
Andre Dawson

Jeff Bagwell (hopefully the writers come to their senses next year), Albert Pujols and Ichiro should join that list eventually. As for recent additions to the ROY/MVP club, it will be interesting to see where the careers of Justin Verlander, Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard and Dustin Pedroia end up.

He was even a great postseason hitter. Here are the all-time playoff batting average leaders (Min. 100 PA):

Player  BA
Paul Molitor .368
Carlos Beltran .366
Lou Gehrig .361
Thurman Munson
Darin Erstad .339
Steve Garvey .338
George Brett .337
Cal Ripken .336
Will Clark .333
Billy Martin .333
Fernando Vina .333

Whoever is still reading this nearly 3,000 word monstrosity sees that Ripken is one of the greatest shortstops ever.

From Bowen Field to Cooperstown, Ripken is the best player to play for Bluefield.

All-Time Bluefield Roster
SP 1 Dean Chance
Setup TBA
Setup TBA
Closer TBA

C Gregg Zaun

SS Cal Ripken

LF Don Baylor

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