May 30, 1982, the Baltimore Orioles dropped the second game of a doubleheader
with the Toronto Blue Jays in Memorial Stadium. A rookie named Jim Gott picked
up his first major league win pitching for the Jays, giving up only one hit in
six innings, striking out six and beating Jim Palmer 6-0.
Thirteen years later, on September 5, 1995 at Camden Yards, Gott would be handing his game ball from that day to Cal Ripken Jr., to congratulate him for tying Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games record--in a streak that started that day. Ripken, the steady, everyday shortstop who had brought thousands of disenchanted fans back to the game of baseball following the strike of 1994, was floored by the gesture.
In 1982 the Orioles were undeniably contenders for the AL East crown. The team featured Rookie of The Year Ripken, slugging first baseman Eddie Murray, solid hitting DH Ken Singleton, and a pitching staff that included Palmer, Mike Flanagan, Scott MacGregor and Tippy Martinez in relief. Not to mention Earl Weaver, managing in his last season before his ill-fated return to the O’s in 1985.
That day Ripken batted eighth and started at third base, with the plan being that he would be the future of the Orioles at third, the team having traded Doug DeCinces to the Angels the year before. He went 0-for-2 with a walk.
The loss put the Orioles at 22-24, hardly a team that appeared poised to make a run. But make a run they did. By September, the Orioles were three games behind the Milwaukee Brewers with four games to play…which happened to be against Milwaukee in Baltimore. The Orioles would take the first three in dramatic fashion, winning both ends of a doubleheader and the third game by the score of 11-3 to the rousing cheers of the hometown fans, before the Brewers would put an exclamation point on the Orioles season with a 10-2 win in the deciding game.
In 1982 the Orioles were still the contending, consistently efficient defensive-minded team that would be in the hunt for a pennant every year, before winning the World Series in 1983 and then falling off of a cliff for several years. It was probably easy for a young rookie to go out and play every day. After winning Rookie of The Year honors in 1982, Ripken would win the MVP in 1983…and I still have a Philadelphia Inquirer headline—-remember, this was 1983—-proclaiming Ripken to be an “Iron Man”.
Things were better for the Orioles then. In the years following the World Series victory over the Phillies, the Orioles would take a nasty fall in the standings, never finishing higher than fifth again until the miracle season of 1989 that saw them one win away from the AL East crown again. They would open the 1988 season losing their first 21 games and remaining in last place the entire season. No doubt Ripken was tempted to take a day off after the 15th or 16th straight loss.
The Orioles had more bad years than good ones during Ripken’s streak, which wasn't the case when he idolized the team growing up. It’s a heck of a lot easier to get up for a game when your team is in the hunt. With all due respect to Lou Gehrig, he didn't have that problem very often.
On May 30, 1982 Cal Ripken, Jr. looked only to be a promising rookie from a pedigree that knew and respected the game of baseball like few family names in history. You knew he would be not just a good ballplayer but a solid fundamental one, too, and if you were a Baltimorean, you were glad he was an Oriole.
But no one in Memorial Stadium on that day knew that thirteen years later that rookie third baseman would still be playing every day, signing thousands of autographs, and singlehandedly lifting a hurting sport on his shoulders and carrying it through its darkest hour.
It takes quite an effort to persuade a pitcher to give up the ball from his first win.
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