Baseball has many records in many categories. Through the years, players have set them, then broken them, and then, they were set by someone else. At that point, you basically compile a list of players vying to be the best and ultimately break a certain record. No record is easy to break, but there are some certain ones that you will see generations pass without being broken.
For example, when Barry Bonds hit his record-breaking 756th home run, passing Hank Aaron on the list. People said that you’d never see anyone get close to his final mark of 762, and that may be the case. There’s another example with Rickey Henderson and his stolen base record of 1,406. That is quite a milestone that you may never see broken for possibly decades, if ever. I could go on and on, but you can just check them all out for yourself. Nearly every single pitching record set before 1900 will never be touched, especially the single season total. A debate for another time and place would center on whether or not baseball should create a second set of records post-Dead Ball era.
These are all great records and you can’t argue that they aren’t all fantastic, because they no doubt are, but there’s just one certain record that captures my attention whenever I hear a mention of it.
Baseball has evolved greatly through the years. That is an obvious statement, but with that evolution, things change and people tend to dislike change. When fans go to a Major League ballpark to watch their favorite team, they want to see the best players those teams have take the field for their respective teams.
Now I know Joe DiMaggio‘s hit streak is quite an amazing feat, but bare with me for just a moment.
So much is put on players nowadays that it is nearly impossible, and very unlikely, that a player will play 162 games in a season. You just don’t see that anymore. In fact, in 2015, Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado is the only eligible player left who can play in all 162 games.
“I’ve got 20 years for that,” Machado said. “I don’t think anyone’s going to break that, not in this generation. Maybe in the next one. It’s just hard. There’s a lot more injuries now. I don’t know what it is, but it’s a record that’s going to be hard to beat. Everybody’s bringing it every day. I’m not saying they didn’t back in the day, but it’s just a lot harder.”
Machado put it in perspective from a current player’s point of view. Times have certainly changed in the game of baseball.
That brings me to another Oriole, a former Oriole.
Let’s rewind for a second –all the way back 34 years ago– to August 10, 1981. Cal Ripken Jr., a 6-foot-4 third baseman at the time, was making his debut for Baltimore against the Kansas City Royals on a hot summer night in Baltimore. He wasn’t in the starting lineup, but came on in the bottom of the 12th for right-fielder Ken Singleton and ended up scoring the winning run for Earl Weaver‘s Orioles’ club. Little did anyone know that this date, let alone in the 12th inning, would be the start of one of the most insurmountable records ever set.
Just a little bit of history: Before Ripken started his career, Lou Gehrig had the previous mark of consecutive games played at 2,130 that was set between the years 1925 and 1939. He passed Everett Scott at 1,307 with Scott being the first player to ever reach 1,000. Scott’s streak ended in 1925.
I digress. As Ripken’s career went on, it wasn’t just that he was playing every game, he was one of baseball’s best. In 1983, he won his first of two AL MVP awards and won a World Series in that same year. Then in 1991, he ranked highly in nearly every big award. He won the AL MVP, the Home Run Derby, the All Star Game MVP, and his first Gold Glove. In addition, from 1983 until 2001, his last season, he was an All Star. Ripken defined what it meant to play the shortstop position, opening the door for players like Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, offensive-minded players, to man the middle infield.
The big day, however, came on September 6, 1995. The Orioles were taking on the California Angels at Camden Yards and it was one of the most historic games in baseball history, as Cal Ripken Jr., “Iron Man” as they started to call him, became the record-holder for most consecutive games played after passing Lou Gehrig’s mark of 2,130. No doubt, this is one of, if not, the most untouchable records out there.
“Iron Man” went on to finish his career playing 2,632 consecutive games with a .276 batting average. Oh yeah, forgot to add that he also is part of the 3,000-hit club as he checks in with 3,184 hits, 431 home runs, and 1,695 RBI. It was quite the banner career for the Hall of Fame shortstop.
There are some other records that will take years to be broken, but this one has something to it that is just captivating because no one plays every game anymore. Players get off days sometimes a few games a month because even though every game counts, the depth on teams has gotten significantly deeper.
Tuesday night in Baltimore, as we approach the 20-year anniversary of the milestone, the Orioles honored Ripken at Camden Yards as he threw out the first pitch. Ripken has been a great ambassador for the game since he retired in 2001 and there seems to be no better player to have accomplished this incredible feat.
The mannerisms he possessed on the field made him a fan and player favorite and he was rewarded with that as he was honored with the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award as a part of his illustrious career.
The thing about this record is that no one has come close to it since Ripken, making it is so unique. For the other records, you have to be good in one specific area. For home runs you need to be proficient in hitting homers, for stealing bases, you need to be fast enough to steal a large amount of bases.
For playing consecutive games, you need to keep your body in pristine condition and then be a solid ballplayer. Ripken was good almost all across the board and never got hurt which is why he was the perfect candidate to accomplish this feat.
Now can it be passed? Sure. But the real question we should be asking ourselves is, will we ever see another player like Cal Ripken Jr.?