Tenth of a series recounting Cal Ripken's 20 major-league seasons.
The last season at Memorial Stadium brought tears from sentimental fans, more losses than wins from the Orioles, and another Most Valuable Player Award for Cal Ripken.
Making himself an almost-certain Hall of Fame inductee, Ripken batted .323 with 34 homers and 114 RBIs on a 1991 team that finished 24 games out of first place in the American League East. Everything he touched, including his glove, turned to gold.
In his 10th full season, Ripken joined Maury Wills as the only players to be named MVP, Major League Player of the Year and All-Star Game MVP, and win a Gold Glove, in the same season. He was the first AL player to be chosen MVP on a losing team.
Batting .209 in June of the previous season, Ripken began to wonder if retirement was nearing. "To let you know how frustrated I was," he said at the time, "I let the thought come into my mind that I might not be able to play that long. That my days as a player, my years as a player, might be numbered."
He squashed that thought in 1991 with a new stance and a bat that never cooled.
Ripken's 34 homers were the most by an Oriole since 1979, and the most by a shortstop in 22 seasons. His 114 RBIs, easily the most in his career, were second only to Eddie Murray among Orioles in the past 21 years. His .323 average was the second-highest in club history. His 85 extra-base hits led the majors and tied a club record. His 368 total bases also led the majors, and no other Oriole could match them.
That should have been enough, but not this year.
Ripken also led the majors with 73 multi-hit games, and with a .358 road average. He topped the Orioles in 14 offensive categories, becoming their fifth player to hit .300 with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs. He was the only AL player to finish in the top 10 in hits, homers, batting average and RBIs. And he became the league's 10th player to hit more than 30 homers and strike out fewer than 50 times, joining Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Don Mattingly, Earl Averill, Hal Trosky, Al Rosen, Al Simmons and Ken Williams.
Bypassed for the Gold Glove the previous season, Ripken led AL shortstops in fielding percentage (.986), putouts (267), assists (528), total chances (807) and double plays (114). He made 11 errors, compared to three in 1990, but received the hardware.
Even the games that didn't count became Ripken's personal showcase. He won the All-Star Game's home run contest by clearing the wall at Toronto's SkyDome on 12 of 22 swings, then hit a three-run shot off former teammate Dennis Martinez the following night and added a single off Cy Young winner Tom Glavine.
Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI Avg.
1991 162 650 99 210 46 5 34 114 .323Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun