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Booking trip to Cooperstown The Ripken Years: 1991

The middle of the 1990 season was the nadir of Cal Ripken's career. He was hitting .209 in mid-June, and, for a time, he thought he was through.

"To let you know how frustrated I was," Ripken 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 as player, my years as a player might be numbered."

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Retirement would have ended his consecutive games streak and ruined his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame.

Ripken's 1991 season -- his 10th in the major leagues -- resurrected his confidence, his career and his Hall of Fame credentials.

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He put numbers up that hadn't been produced by a shortstop since Ernie Banks, finishing with a .323 batting average, 34 home runs and 114 RBIs. Ripken was voted the American League's Most Valuable Player by the Baseball Writers Association of America for the second time.

"This year sealed him as a Hall of Famer," the Dallas Morning News' Gerry Fraley said shortly after voting for Ripken.

As a two-time MVP winner, Ripken moved himself into the company of DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle, Musial, Mays, Greenberg, Banks and Williams, among others. All but six of the 23 repeat winners are in the Hall of Fame.

Three of those six, Ripken, Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas, are still active. Robin Yount, who recently retired with more than 3,000 hits, is a lock. The other two, Dale Murphy and Roger Maris, are marginal candidates at best, with Murphy probably having a better chance of getting elected than Maris.

There is no doubt, according to several baseball writers, about Ripken.

"When he finally retires, he's a lock to go in on the first ballot," longtime BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack Lang said. "He'd have commit murder to be taken off the ballot."

Bill James, the author of the book "The Politics of Glory: How Baseball's Hall of Fame Really Works," devised a point system to determine which active players are worthy of induction. A player with more than 100 points is a "likely" inductee and one with more than 130 points a "certain" one.

Ripken, receiving points through the 1994 season but not for his streak, has 152. Yount, by comparison, has 130.

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"I don't see how he can miss," the Los Angeles Times' Ross Newhan said.

"To me, he's a cinch," Oakland Tribune columnist Leonard Koppett said.

That wasn't the case in 1990, when Ripken finished with a career-low .250 average. Over the years, he consistently hit for power, with no fewer than 20 home runs and 80 RBIs per season, but his average consistently dropped.

Finally, during mid-June 1990, with his average at .209, Ripken dismantled his swing with the help of Frank Robinson, hitting coach Tom McCraw and Ripken's father. He went back to basics -- a wider stance, more flex in his knees and using his hands more.

His average climbed slowly from .209 to .250 in 1990; the results were more startling in 1991.

It was a magical season for Ripken. Instead of revamping his swing at the All-Star break, he was showing it off. Ripken connected on 12 of 22 swings for home runs at the All-Star Game's homer-hitting contest in Toronto. The next day, he hit a three-run homer to lead the AL to a 4-1 victory over the NL and was named the game's MVP.

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For his All-Star weekend heroics, Ripken received national media attention that helped him rack up postseason awards.

He won the Sporting News and Associated Press Major League Player of the Year awards, his first of two Gold Gloves and his second AL MVP award. Ripken was the first AL player to win the MVP award on a team with a losing record (Banks had done it twice and Andre Dawson once with the National League's Chicago Cubs).

The Orioles, losers of 95 games, had little to look forward to other than a new ballpark. Ripken had several new trophies to polish and coming contract negotiations. More importantly, he rejuvenated his career offensively, erased any thoughts of retirement and punched his ticket for Cooperstown.

"A guy like Ripken long ago earned his Hall of Fame credentials," Koppett said. "I would say somewhere around Game 1,500."

Game 1,500 fell on a July night at Memorial Stadium against the Seattle Mariners. In 1991. The year Ripken became a Hall of Famer.

The year in baseball . . .

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* The Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves make modern baseball history by going from last place in 1990 to playing in the World Series the next year.

* Minnesota, behind MVP Jack Morris (right), beats Atlanta in the World Series, which features three extra-inning contests, four games won on the final pitch and five games decided by one run.

* Rickey Henderson breaks the career stolen base mark with his 939th.

* Cecil Fielder becomes the first American League hitter since Jimmie Foxx to lead in home runs and RBIs two straight years.

* Nolan Ryan pitches his seventh no-hitter.

* Dennis Martinez throws a perfect game.

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. . . and the world

* Anita Hill charges Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas with sexual harassment when they worked together in 1983.

* Boris Yeltsin wins easy election June 13 as president of the Russian Republic in the first democratic elections held in Russia.

* Operation Desert Storm begins in January. The ground war starts on Feb. 24 and ends in 100 hours with Iraqi forces defeated.

* Los Angeles police are videotaped brutalizing Rodney King on March 3.

BTC * Magic Johnson announces on Nov. 7 that he has the AIDS virus and is retiring from basketball.

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* The U.S. first-class postal rate goes to 29 cents on Feb. 3.

SEASON HIGHLIGHTS

* Becomes the only player in major-league history besides Maury Wills in 1962 to win a league MVP, Major League Player of the Year, All-Star Game MVP and a Gold Glove in the same season.

* Finishes third in the American League in homers with 34, which is the most by a shortstop in 22 years and the most by an Oriole since 1979.

* Finishes with a career-high 114 RBIs, second only to Eddie Murray on the Orioles in the past 21 years. Murray had 124 in 1985 and 116 in 1980.

* Leads the majors with 85 extra-base hits to tie an Orioles record.

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* Leads the major leagues with 368 total bases to set an Orioles record.

* Becomes one of only five Orioles to hit .300 with more than 30 homers and 100 RBIs.

* Hits a career-high .323, second highest in Orioles history.

* Tops the major leagues with a career-best 73 multi-hit games.

* Leads the majors in road batting average (.358).

* Is second in the majors in hits, doubles and slugging percentage.

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* Tops the Orioles in 14 offensive categories.

* Is the only American League player to finish in the Top 10 in hits, homers, batting average and RBIs.



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