Cal Ripken Jr. in 1981 and 1982

In early March 1982, a profile of Cal Ripken Jr. by Thomas Boswell said:

Second baseman Rich Dauer recalls looking behind him during batting practice in Asheville, N.C., years ago and seeing a 13-year-old catcher snagging fast balls as though he were a big league veteran.

Ex-Oriole Doug DeCinces, who was traded to California for Dan Ford in January, in large part to make room for Ripken in the lineup, was always crazy about the kid who was destined to replace him. “I’m just playing between legends (i.e., Brooks Robinson and Ripken),” DeCinces used to say. Once a crazy kid was firing a rifle from a hill down at the Asheville diamond and DeCinces scooped up Little Rip and dove into the dugout with him.

One Oriole, Jim Palmer, can even remember Little Rip as a 3-year-old playing at the ballpark back at Class A Aberdeen in 1964.

In fact, most Orioles remember the day Ripken Jr. took batting practice at Memorial Stadium as a high school senior in 1978 before the Orioles signed him. The 6-foot-4 youngster beat the left field bleachers to death with a dead-pull stroke that obviously had been built with just this park in mind from a very early age. The vets buzzed that day as though they’d seen the future and it was Cooperstown.

Cal Ripken Sr. said of his son being in the Orioles’ spring training camp: “No, I haven’t talked to him yet. He’s got his friends. All of our (baseball) life has been on a professional level. The father-son thing is overplayed. Hell, I managed Eddie Murray and Rich Dauer and Doug DeCinces and Bobby Litchfield in the minors. I was a father to all of them.”

He added: “It’s not what he’ll do this year, but what he’ll do over the next 15 years. You measure a player by his whole career, what he learns, what he does under pressure. Am I proud of him? Well, sure, I’m proud of him as my son. But, as a ballplayer, ask in 15 years.”

Earl Weaver: “The only important thing is to look at the book at the end of the season and see if he’s hit 25 home runs rather than five, or has 86 RBI rather than 26.”

Cal Jr. said: “This is like a new life, a new challenge, a big opportunity that I’m not going to pass up. My last two years, I’ve started out really hot and continued right through. I count on myself to get off to a good start. It’s a new league, just like any other step, from Double A to Triple A, just a little bit tougher.”

He said of his struggles in 1981 after the Orioles called him up: “When I came up, I was really swinging well. If I was put right in the lineup, from that point on, I think I would have done all right. But I sat, and my timing was a little off. And you can’t experiment from the bench.

“Sitting and watching I got bored. I was really upset. I said, ‘Why couldn’t I stay at Rochester, get in the playoffs and at least help the team win. At least play every day.’ But then I thought, ‘I’m up here and I’m getting my feet wet.’ I got to see everything, so this year I don’t have as many question marks.”

On August 10, 1981, Ripken had made his debut. The Washington Post wrote: “John Lowenstein stranded two runners as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning, but made up for it by driving home the winning run with a single in the 12th as the Baltimore Orioles beat the Kansas City Royals, 3-2, before 19,850 fans tonight. Ken Singleton opened the 12th with a double, Baltimore’s first hit since Singleton and Eddie Murray hit consecutive two-out homers in the first. Murray was walked intentionally and Lowenstein hit a 3-2 pitch from Renie Martin (2-4) into the right-field corner and scored Cal Ripken, a pinch-runner.”

After hitting .128 in 1981, Ripken started 1982 with the Orioles. He missed game two of a doubleheader against the Blue Jays on May 29. The next day, Cal began his consecutive games streak in a 6-0 loss to the Jays. The Toronto Globe and Mail reported:

THROUGH SIX innings yesterday afternoon, 22-year-old Jim Gott was superb.

Making a firm impression on a Memorial Stadium crowd of 21,632 that included his father, Van, who came in from Pasadena, Calif., the Toronto Blue Jay rookie pitcher gave Baltimore Orioles but one hit that led to nothing, struck out six and allowed only one batter to reach second base.

That was all the edge the Jays or Gott needed. Roy Lee Jackson retired the final nine batters and the Jays had a 6-0 win and Gott had his first major-league victory.

Gott, with a 2-0 lead, was taken from the game because of a stiff shoulder after walking Terry Crowley to lead off the seventh inning. It was his fourth major-league start.

Until that time, he had outpitched 250-game winner Jim Palmer. The Jays added four ninth-inning runs to provide a cushion in winning the American League three-game baseball series 2-1.

He [Gott] struck out the side in the second inning, cutting down Ken Singleton, Crowley and Dan Ford. In the fifth, he had his only trouble when Rick Dempsey singled off the end of his bat, Cal Ripken walked and he got behind 3-0 to Lenn Sakata. ‘My slider was working best so I threw him three straight sliders,’ said Gott, who worked the count back to 3-2.

Sakata flied out and so did Al Bumbry, deep, and Gott was out of the inning.

The next day, May 31, Ripken stole home to help the O’s win. The Washington Post said:

The Baltimore Orioles, who have been in need of a pick-me-up lately, nearly wasted one tonight. Dennis Martinez pitched eight strong innings and Cal Ripken Jr. made a daring steal of home as the Orioles seemed to have a safe 8-3 lead going into the ninth inning against Texas. But the Rangers scored four runs, hitting two homers off Tim Stoddard, before Tippy Martinez came in to get the last two outs and secure an 8-7 victory before 13,344 at Memorial Stadium.

Dennis Martinez (5-4) pitched well, although he was worried about his 7-year-old daughter, Erica. She had been hit by an automobile early today, but was released from the hospital. Martinez was replaced with an 8-3 lead and two men on in the ninth inning, giving way to the struggling Stoddard. He left the stadium right after that.

In the early going it appeared that Dennis Martinez, who has been knocked out before the fourth inning three times this year, would not be able to shake his personal problems and get to even the middle innings.

His early nervousness brought Manager Earl Weaver out of the dugout for a talk in the third inning. But after allowing three runs and seven hits in the first four innings, Martinez settled down and allowed two hits and no runs until the ninth.

“I don’t know what settled him down,” Weaver said. “For three innings he struggled, but he seems to have some of his best games when he does that.”

“Do you know his daughter was hit by a car today? Do you know he saw it happen?” asked Ray Miller, the pitching coach. “Do you know he didn’t know she was all right until the umpire went out and told him before the first pitch? Don’t say anything about courage when a guy handles that.”

Ripken provided [a boost] in the sixth inning when he stole home to put the Orioles on top, 4-3. With two outs and two strikes on Al Bumbry, Ripken took off as soon as catcher Jim Sundberg tossed the ball back to pitcher Jon Matlack. Ripken beat Matlack’s return throw with a half-slide and managed to slip under Sundberg’s high tag. Lenn Sakata, who moved to second on the play, then scored on Bumbry’s single.

The lead seemed safe, especially after Rich Dauer singled home one run and Ken Singleton hit a two-run homer in the eighth for an 8-3 lead.

“It’s just a normal play, the kind of thing we look for all the time,” said Ripken, who also doubled, singled and walked twice.

“But I’m sure it helped liven us up and give us a little spark, which we really needed. We know we can’t make up for our earlier problems by winning 10 games in a row, but we have to keep making up ground.”

Ripken missed game 8 and game 45 of the 1982 season: game 45 was the second game of the May 29 doubleheader. He was hitting in the .100s until mid-May, but came back to win the A.L. rookie of the year award over Kent Hrbek. In early June 1982, a few days after the consecutive games streak started, Ripken started a consecutive innings streak that didn’t end until late in the 1987 season.

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