It was during the Pleistocene Era, May 29, 1982, to be exact, the last game No. 8 sat one out.
Well, never mind. Many of those who were involved in that game are still alive, and The Sun has tracked them around the globe to produce a you-are-there account of what it was like to be at THE LAST GAME CAL RIPKEN DIDN'T PLAY.
It was the second game of a doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays at Memorial Stadium on a Saturday night. The doubleheader was forced by a rainout the night before. Manager Earl Weaver apparently decided to give his rookie third baseman -- remember, that's what Ripken was in early 1982 -- the night off and played Floyd Rayford in his place.
At the time, the season wasn't going well either for Ripken or his team. The Orioles, expected to contend as usual as that season began, were playing no better than .500 ball as May neared an end, and they were struggling in fourth place in the American League East. Orioles news that week included Eddie Murray's sore left hand, which seemed to be the cause of his free-falling batting average (down to .358 from .509) and Jim Palmer's temporary banishment to the bullpen, which he blamed on general manager Hank Peters. ("I've never been a Hank Peters fan," the future Hall of Famer said.)
If anything, Ripken was doing worse than his team in the early part of the season. He was batting .238 with three home runs.
Two teammates, center fielder Al Bumbry, now an Orioles coach, and infielder Lenn Sakata, remember battles between Weaver and Cal Ripken Sr. over Cal Jr.'s batting stance.
"Earl wanted him to move up on the plate and pull the ball," said Sakata, now the manager of a Japanese minor-league team, the Chiba Lotte Marines. "Cal Sr. just wanted Earl to leave him alone. They were deciding whether to send him down."
Rich Dauer, the second baseman from that team, recalls the strain on the rookie early in the season. "You could just see in his eyes that he was very distraught with himself," said Dauer, now a roving infield instructor with the Kansas City Royals.
In the last three weeks of May, though, Ripken showed signs of righting himself with six-game and eight-game hitting streaks.
Had he not shown that progress, his consecutive-games streak might have been short-lived. Weaver, perhaps more than any manager then, was keenly aware of matchups between pitchers and hitters. "With Weaver," said Benny Ayala, a backup outfielder and pinch hitter, "if you don't hit against a guy, you don't play against that guy the next time."
Until May 29, though, Ripken had missed only two games. He missed the second game of a doubleheader in Chicago on April 17 with a 102-degree fever. And after a May 3 beaning by Seattle Mariners pitcher Mike Moore, he was removed from that game and kept out of the next.
He recovered quickly, though, and going into the second game of the May 29 doubleheader, he had played in 22 straight games.
The Orioles won the first game that day, 3-1, behind Mike Flanagan. Ripken, batting eighth, had one single in four at-bats.
Then came the game that will be remembered because of Ripken's absence from it.
It was a messy affair, interrupted by rain for 44 minutes. The Orioles twice overcame five-run deficits before falling, 11-10, on a two-out, run-scoring single by the Blue Jays' Dave Revering. The light-hitting Revering had a career night, with a home run and five RBIs. Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey hit a homer, too, and Ayala had a pinch-hit grand slam in the seventh.
But the most notable thing about the game was one man on the bench.
And how does the man who put him there recall that fateful game?
"Gee, I'm not going to be able to help you with that," Weaver said from his retirement home in Florida. "I don't remember that ++ game at all."
"No, I just don't remember that one," he said. "But you know what? Now, I wish I hadn't have kept him out. If I hadn't, he'd have the record by now."
OK, fine. Weaver has been out on the links a number of years now and the sun's pretty hot down there. What about Rayford, who played third that day instead of Ripken?
"Hmmm, what was that, 12 or 14 years ago?" said Rayford, an assistant bullpen coach with the Philadelphia Phillies. "At the time, that game just didn't stand out."
It didn't for pitcher Scott McGregor, either, who lasted two-thirds of an inning that game, or for Bumbry, who had two hits. Dauer, who had three hits, including a double, said, "I'm drawing a blank on that one."
From Japan, Sakata said he had no memory of the game. Bob Bonner, who started at shortstop that night, weighed in from Zambia, Africa. He's a Christian missionary with a terrible memory. He doesn't remember the game.
Jim Dwyer, now a minor-league hitting coach with the Minnesota Twins, didn't remember the game, either, despite his two hits, but he attributed the team's loss to Ripken's failure to play that day.
Ken Singleton, a broadcaster for the Montreal Expos, did Dwyer one better. No, he didn't remember that game, but noted that the Orioles missed first place by the slimmest of margins in 1982. "That year we only lost by one game, and that might have been the game," Singleton said. "So I guess Ripken cost us the pennant."
OK, maybe these guys have just buried memories of a tough loss. That's understandable. But surely not the man who hit a grand slam that day, one of two in his career.
"Against Toronto? Oh yeah, I remember," said Ayala from Puerto Rico, where he is a rent collector. "Sure, we won that game, didn't we?"
Fine, forget them, all of them. Of course, that game wasn't special for any of them. It was just one of hundreds they played. But for one player, it had to stand out. For a player who feels compelled to play in every single game, the last one he missed has to stand out. Here then, in Ripken's words, is how he remembered that momentous game:
"I think the last time I missed a game, I think I got plunked in the head. It was by Mike Moore. I got taken to the hospital. I wanted to stay in the game. They took me to the hospital for X-rays or whatever. I was hitting .128 or whatever it was, or .118. I think Earl used that as an excuse to not play me the next day, but that might not be true."
It's not true. That was the May 4 game, not the May 29 one.
Surely, though, he could remember the last one if reminded of the score, the Ayala slam, the rain delay.
He just shook his head.
"I blocked it out totally," he said evenly. "It was the worst day of my life. I suppressed it all these years. Now, I have to deal with it because of you."
Opponent: California Angels
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Time: 1:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Angels' Jim Abbott (9-7, 3.55) vs. Orioles' Jamie Moyer (8-5, 5.01)
Tickets: 7,300 remain
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
An update on the Orioles who played on May 29, 1982, the last time Cal Ripken missed a game:
Al Bumbry cf: O's coach
Rich Dauer 2b: Royals roving infield instructor
Jim Dwyer 1b: Twins minor-league hitting coach
Ken Singleton DH: Expos broadcaster
John Lowenstein lf: O's broadcaster
Benny Ayala ph: Rent collector in Puerto Rico
Eddie Murray 1b: Indians DH
Dan Ford rf: Whereabouts unknown
Rick Dempsey c: Dodgers Triple-A manager
Floyd Rayford 3b: Phillies assistant bullpen coach
Bob Bonner ss: Christian missionary in Zambia
Lenn Sakata ss: Minor-league manager in Japan
Scott McGregor p: Minister in Dover, Del.