Sept. 20, 1998 – Ripken’s Streak Ends
At the very beginning of Sept. 1995, with a buzz that echoed throughout Camden Yards, Cal Ripken Jr. broke a seemingly impossible record set by the Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig: 2,131 consecutive games played.
To break that record now somehow seems even more impossible. In 2019, just five hitters played all 162 games. The current active leader in consecutive games played is Whit Merrifield at 371. For him to break 2,131, he would need to play every day for at least the next 10 seasons. Merrifield would be 42 years old.
But Ripken was the “Iron Man,” and his streak didn’t end at 2,131.
No, it continued on for another three seasons, reaching an incomprehensible 2,632. Let’s put all that into perspective.
His streak began on May 30, 1982. At that time, Ripken was just 21 years old. Ronald Reagan was in the second year of his presidency. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia still existed. Michael Jackson had yet to release Thriller.
Fast forward 16 years later. Ripken was now 37. Bill Clinton was in the second year of his second term. 30 new countries had formed since ’82. The third and final movie in the Major League series (Major League: Back to the Minors) had just flopped in theaters.
But throughout this significant stretch of modern history in which the world continually evolved, there was one constant:
Ripken at short.
Well, until 1997. That season, Ripken made the full-time career switch to third. Despite his desire to continue playing, Ripken had already experienced the effects of aging as his power disappeared. Up through ’91, Ripken hit .279/.349/.467 (OPS+ of 126). But from ’92 to ’98, he slashed just .270/.333/.416 (OPS+ of 96).
Unfortunately, time’s arrow marches forward, and our childhood heroes cannot play forever.
In 1998, the Orioles had a disappointing season after making it to the ALCS in back-to-back years. They appeared destined for their first losing season since ’91. And by Sept. 20, Baltimore sat 28.5 games back of the division-leading Yankees, who they were facing for the final time that season.
48,013 fans crowded Camden Yards. And at 7:30 p.m., unbeknownst to all those in attendance, Ripken approached manager Ray Miller and took himself out of the lineup.
Ripken did not make this decision due to injuries or poor play. He simply felt that it was time.
They prepared two lineup cards, one with Ripken and one without, to keep this a secret as long as possible. It caught everyone by surprise.
Before the game, shortstop Mike Bordick asked Ripken if he wanted to warm up.
“You better find someone else to throw with tonight,” Ripken replied.
Out in Ripken’s spot at third was Ryan Minor, a surprised rookie making his second major-league start.
On this day in 1998, Cal Ripken Jr. takes his 1st game off after 2,632 consecutive games. Here's the lineup card pic.twitter.com/fc3fQLBwnj
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 20, 2015
As the moments ticked closer to game time, everyone gradually began to notice that Ripken wasn’t warming up. Instead he sat on the bench, waiting for the first pitch.
Once Chuck Knoblauch made the first out, it became official. The game has started, and the streak was over.
It wasn’t the end of Ripken’s career, but at least he no longer had to deal with the existential question: When will the streak end?
In ’99, the first full season where he had rest days, Ripken hit like a rejuvenated man. His .952 OPS/144 OPS+ in 354 PAs was his best performance since his MVP-winning year in ’91 (.940 OPS/162 OPS+).
Ripken would ultimately play another three seasons/304 games, knocking off some milestones like 3,000 hits and 400 home runs.
Gehrig’s streak lasted for 56 years. It’s been 26 years since Ripken claimed the record. Will baseball ever have another Iron Man?
Sept. 23, 1949 – Cleveland Buries Its Playoff Hopes
The 2016 World Series was a fascinating experience for me as a baseball fan. For my entire life (and that of my parents … and their parents …) the Cubs had never won a championship.
Following that phenomenal Fall Classic, the world underwent an extreme paradigm shift as it couldn’t fathom the concept that the Cubs are champions. Unfortunately, for Cleveland fans, their team now held the record for longest title drought.
The last time they won a World Series? 1948. A 72-year drought. How do you explain something like this?
Some fans may attribute this due to the “Curse of Rocky Colavito.” In a similar story to the “Curse of the Bambino,” this slugger led the league with 42 HR in 1959 before he got traded away to a nearby rival team (the Tigers).
But I like to think the curse began a decade prior thanks to a promotional idea by Cleveland owner Bill Veeck.
As one of baseball’s most legendary owners, Veeck had his fair share of great ideas, from putting ivy on the walls of Wrigley Field to signing Larry Doby and bringing integration to the American League.
In 1949, Cleveland had championship hopes again. They had almost the exact same starting lineup that won the World Series in ’48, but it wasn’t enough to beat out the Yankees for the AL Pennant.
On Sept. 23, after they had been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, Veeck honored this disappointing season in a very Veeck-ian way.
With a funeral, of course.
Veeck, dressed as the “mortician,” hosted a funeral procession for the 1948 pennant. Veeck brought along a copy of the Sporting News (because “baseball men refer to [it] as their ‘Bible'”) and had various Cleveland employees/coaches serve as the pallbearers.
The casket, which contained the ’48 pennant, was buried beyond the outfield wall. And nobody knows what happened to the casket/pennant.
Seriously, it somehow just vanished into thin air. How does a large casket like that disappear? Your guess is as good as mine. But if Cleveland wants to finally win another World Series, they better start looking hard for that pennant.
Sept. 25, 2014 – Derek Jeter’s Last Home Game
It was a fitting final chapter to a storybook career. Time and time again, Derek Jeter had been called upon in an absolutely critical situation, and he always delivered.
Now, on Sept. 25, 2014, Jeter had one last page to write.
The previous couple years had not played out as Jeter had hoped.
In Game 1 of the 2012 ALDS, Jeter broke his ankle, unceremoniously all but ending the Yankees playoff run. The next season, that injury led to further complications and Jeter played just 17 regular-season games, the fewest since his rookie year.
But Jeter wouldn’t end his career that way. Jeter would go out on his own terms. So, he announced that 2014 would be his final season.
Unfortunately, the Jeter of old was no more. Age and injuries had caught up to “The Captain.”
Going into that Sept. 25 contest, Jeter was hitting just .253/.301/.309 with 46 R, 4 HR and 46 RBIs. All of those stats were easily Jeter’s worst in any full season.
There were some highlights, such as his 2-for-2 performance in the All-Star Game, which featured a youthful defensive play as well.
But no moment is more memorable than what happened in that final game at Yankee Stadium.
For the first six-and-a-half innings, it was a relatively even contest.
As you can see, the Orioles jumped out to a quick lead thanks to back-to-back solo shots off Hiroki Kuroda to start the game. But the Yankees responded with two runs immediately thanks to an RBI double by Jeter, who also scored due to an error by Kelly Johnson.
It was a quiet game until the bottom of the seventh when Jeter (of course it was him) kicked off the scoring again in a bases loaded opportunity after J. J. Hardy made a throwing error, allowing two runs to cross home. A sac fly by Brian McCann gave the Yanks a 5 – 2 lead.
With the Yankees holding a commanding advantage, it seemed as though the home town crowd had witnessed Jeter’s last AB in Yankee Stadium.
Then, in the ninth inning, chaos reigned.
It all started when the usually reliable David Robertson allowed a leadoff walk. Two batters later, Adam Jones clobbered a homer to left to cut the score to 5-4. Nelson Cruz was on deck, but he struck out for the second out in the inning.
Steve Pearce came up next, and he did this.
Although the crowd sounded unhappy, there was a positive hidden within: Jeter would bat third in the bottom of the ninth.
Robertson got one more out to end the inning. Next, one more at-bat for The Captain.
The leadoff man, Jose Pirela, squabbled a single to left. Pinch running was Antoan Richardson. Brett Gardner was next, and he laid down a sac bunt to move Richardson to second.
Bob Shepherd’s voice echoed throughout the stadium: “Now batting for the Yankees … Number 2 … Derek Jeter … Number 2.”
Here’s that moment.
It could not have happened any other way.
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