Baltimore, Sept. 6, 1995. People have spent thousands of dollars to get tickets for this evening's game between the hometown Orioles and the California Angels. More than 600 journalists are there to cover the historic contest. When the top of the fifth inning ends, it becomes official: Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. has broken Lou Gehrig's 56-year-old record by playing in his 2,131st consecutive game.
Cal Ripken Jr. was born in Havre de Grace, Md., on Aug. 24, 1960. His father, Cal Sr., held various jobs with the Orioles over the years, including player, coach and manager of several farm teams as well as the Orioles themselves. With the elder Ripken often on the road, it was his wife, Viola, who taught Cal Jr. to hit. The lessons clearly paid off, as he won the Harford County, Md., batting title as a high school senior.
The Orioles chose Ripken in the second round of the 1978 draft and sent him to a farm team in Bluefield, W.V. In 1979, he was put on an Orioles AA team in Charlotte, N.C. He advanced to an AAA team in Rochester, N.Y., in 1981 and was called up to Baltimore that August. Ripken hit a home run in his major league debut on opening day in 1982. After struggling initially, Ripken finished the season with a .264 batting average and was named the American League's Rookie of the Year.
In 1983, Ripken made the first of his 19 All-Star Games and was named Major League Player of the Year and the AL's Most Valuable Player. His 211 hits and 47 doubles were tops in the majors, and the Orioles defeated the Chicago White Sox to win the pennant. Despite Ripken's poor hitting, the Orioles defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in five games to win the World Series.
Ripken continued his excellent play over the next three seasons, but the Orioles struggled. The 1987 season was truly a family affair for Ripken, with his father managing the team and his brother, Billy, playing second base. Baltimore's sixth place finish that year cost Cal Sr. his job, although he would remain with the Orioles as third base coach. In 1989, Ripken became the first shortstop to hit at least 20 home runs in eight straight seasons. He was named Major League Player of the Year for the second time in 1991 and won Most Valuable Player honors for both the regular season and the All-Star Game, in addition to winning the first of his two Gold Gloves.
President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore visited Ripken in the clubhouse prior to the Sept. 6, 1995, game. Ripken added even more excitement when he hit a home run in the fourth inning. When he had officially broken Gehrig's record, the crowd cheered him for 22 minutes. Several of his teammates compelled him to run around the field. Bobby Bonilla and Rafael Palmeiro helped him get started by pushing him out of the dugout. After the Orioles won 4-2, Ripken described himself as "overwhelmed" to have his name connected with Gehrig's. The night's final speech came from Joe DiMaggio. "Wherever my former teammate, Lou Gehrig, is today, he's tipping his hat to you, Cal," DiMaggio told Ripken.
Having broken Gehrig's record, Ripken broke the world record Japan's Sachio Kinusaga had set by playing in his 2,216th consecutive game in 1996. He requested not to play on the night of Sept. 20, 1998, ending his streak at 2,632 games. Ripken hit a home run during his final All-Star Game in 2001 and was named the game's Most Valuable Player. He retired later that year with career totals of 3,184 hits and 431 home runs and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.