The action shot shows an awkward follow through but really captures Ripken's youthful appearance.
Player: Cal Ripken Jr's father Cal Sr had been a long time coach and manager in the minors and had been on the big league staff since '76. Cal Jr drafted in '78, wasn't an immediate smash, but he hit over 20 HR each of his last two years in the minors earning him a call up in September of '81. He debuted two weeks before his 21st birthday and had just five hits in 39 at bats.
Ripken made the 1982 opening day squad as the starting thirdbaseman and started his famous consecutive game streak on May 30th, a streak that would last over 16 more seasons. He played at the hot corner almost exclusively during the first half of the season before shifting to shortstop on July 1st. He hit with unusual power for a young infielder and finished with 28 dingers. He batted .264, drove in 94 runs, and walked away with the AL Rookie of the Year award.
In '83, Ripken's production flourished as he posted a .318/.371/.517 line while leading the AL in doubles (47), hits (211) and runs (121). He won the AL MVP award as well as the first of eight Silver Sluggers. He batted .400 in the ALCS against the White Sox and .167 against the Phillies as the O's won the World Series. Ripken put up similar offensive numbers in '84 and his range at short was above league average.
Ripken was a steady run producer, hitting between 21-28 HR in first nine full seasons. His average slipped into the .280s in '85 and '86 and he batted between .250 - .264 from '87-'90. He had a resurgence in 1991 batting .323/.374/.566 with a career bests with 34 HR and 114 RBI. The perennial All-Star won his second MVP award and recorded a staggering 11.0 WAR. No longer possessing the range of his younger days, Ripken was sure handed with only 22 errors over the previous three seasons and won his first Gold Glove.
Over the next two years Ripken slumped, hitting in the .250s with only 14 HR in 1992. Was the consecutive game streak taking a toll? Perhaps, but Ripken kept on plugging away and he rebounded in '94. In the strike shortened season he batted .315. He batted .262 in '95 but the highlight of the season was by far his breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played streak on September 6th. Playing his 2,131st game in a row was a momentous occasion and one that helped get baseball "back" after two labor-problem-plagued seasons.
Ripken batted in the .270s over the next three seasons and continued to play every day and made the transition to third base for good in '97. Ripken and the Orioles made it to the ALCS in both '96 and '97 but were unable to get to the World Series either year.
Ripken finally ended the streak at 2,632 games when he sat out the last game of the '98 season. He missed some action due to injuries in '99 but he made the most of his 354 plate appearances as he hit 18 HR with a .340/.368/.584 stat line. He got his 3,000 career hit in '00 but hit just .256 on the year. Playing one more season, Ripken hit .239 with 14 homers in '01. He retired with 3,001 games played, 3,184 hits, and 431 home runs.
Flipside: Yes, Ripken was a second round pick, the third of four picks that Baltimore had in that round due to the loss of free-agents. The O's drafted Larry Sheets and Eddie Hook before Ripken and Cecil Whitehead after.
Oddball: When replacement players seemed a strong reality during the spring of '95, the MLBPA gave Ripken permission to cross the picket line to keep the streak alive. Ripken declined and thank goodness things never progressed to that point.
History: Ripken is one of the all-time greats and was elected to the HOF in 2007. Some of his career stats are mind boggling because he played so long, but he had several incredible peak years with three seasons with 8+ wins above replacement.