Earl Weaver saw things in Cal Ripken that others didn't. Ripken ended 1981 and began 1982 as a major-league third baseman who could not even hit his weight. But Weaver saw a shortstop. He saw a star. He saw a player whom he refused to return to Triple-A Rochester and insisted on playing every single day.
The streak was born out of Weaver's patience.
"The streak never entered my thinking," said Weaver, who managed Ripken in 1981, 1982 and when he came out of retirement in 1985 and 1986. "I just said, 'As long as I'm the manager, that kid's name is going to be in the lineup.' "
Ripken missed only three games in 1982, all of them in the first two months of the season.
A 102-degree temperature forced him to sit out the second game of an April 17 doubleheader. His temperature dropped only 1 degree overnight, but Ripken demanded to take batting practice and entered the next game as a pinch runner.
On May 3, a fastball from Mike Moore knocked a grapefruit-sized hole in Ripken's helmet. He missed one game.
His last day off came during the second game of a May 29 doubleheader against Toronto. The next day, Ripken was back in the lineup.
He has been there ever since.
Thanks, in part, to Weaver.
Weaver prided himself on his eye for talent, an eye developed during his 20 years as a player and manager in the minor leagues, an eye that gave him the confidence to play struggling prospects.
"You have to recognize talent," Weaver said from his Florida home. "It wasn't hard to know that Ripken was talented, not hard at all."
Weaver backed Ripken when he batted .128 (5-for-39) after the 1981 strike, trading Doug DeCinces to open a starting spot for him.
The third baseman's job was Ripken's in 1982. He still struggled. After hitting his first major-league home run in his first Opening Day at-bat and adding two hits that day, Ripken fell into a 4-for-55 swoon. On May 1, he was hitting .117.
Weaver was not deterred. He stood by his assessment of Ripken's talent, calling Ripken into his office several times and reassuring him that he belonged in the lineup.
Ripken was not the first Orioles infield prospect to stumble when he reached the majors. Rich Dauer, who hit .243 in 1977, remembered Weaver's support.
"You'd be struggling, and Earl would say something positive about the way you played that would make the newspapers," said Dauer, now a roving minor-league instructor for the Kansas City Royals. "You couldn't wait to get to the ballpark to show Earl why he had so much confidence in you."
Weaver said he was more patient with prospects than with losing.
The Orioles were 6-12 on April 30. But beginning with a West Coast trip in early May, Ripken started hitting, and the Orioles started winning. He turned the corner after a pep talk from the California Angels' Reggie Jackson and batted .316 in May and .300 in June. Ripken's fielding was equally strong; he failed to make an error in 44 consecutive games.
That's when Weaver decided to make a change no one else in the organization favored: move Ripken to shortstop. Club officials balked, touting an infield with Ripken at third and another prospect, Bob Bonner, at short. Bonner, a Christian missionary working in Zambia, said he knew Weaver didn't like him: "He said, 'As long as I'm the manager, you will never play.' "
Weaver went with his eye for talent. He ignored Ripken's error-filled minor-league season at short, attributing it to inexperience and minor-league diamonds. He compared Ripken's soft hands and grace to those of Marty Marion, a 6-foot-2 shortstop who played in the 1940s and '50s.
But, unlike Marion, Ripken, 6-4, could hit for power. By the end of the 1982 season, his 28 home runs and 93 RBIs won Ripken the American League's Rookie of the Year award. Looking back, Weaver said, he wished he'd have moved Ripken to shortstop sooner.
"I think if Cal had been there all year, we would have won the Eastern Division in 1982," Weaver said.
But Weaver still gave the fans something. He gave them a shortstop. And to the shortstop he gave the genesis of the streak.
- Becomes the fifth Oriole to win Rookie of the Year.
- Leads major-league rookies in doubles (32), homers (28), RBIs (93), total bases (284) and game-winning RBIs (11).
- Batted .281 (151-for-538) from May 2, playing in all but two of the final144 games.
- Is picked AL Player of the Week after batting .444 with four home runs and 11 RBIs in seven games through Aug. 27.
- Plays 44 straight errorless games at third base from April 24 to June 14.
- His first stolen base is of home on the front end of a double steal with Lenn Sakata off the Rangers' Jon Matlack on May 31 in Baltimore.
- Doesn't miss game after May 29 when he sits out the second game of a doubleheader -- his consecutive games streak starts the next day.
- Hits first grand slam off Yankees pitcher Mike Morgan in Baltimore on Sept. 14 (second game).
- Ties Orioles record with five hits at Texas on Aug. 22.
- Hits 11 of his 28 homers with at least one runner on base.
- Compiled his highest average against any opponent vs. Mariners (.342), but Seattle was the only club against which he did not hit a home run.
- Has an 11-game hitting streak from June 5 to 16.
- Has 17 RBIs in 13 games against the Yankees with four homers and a .286 average (14-for-49).
- Posts .300-or-above average against six opponents.
|Avg. ||G ||AB ||R ||H ||2B ||3B ||HR ||RBI ||BB ||SO ||SB ||E |
The year in baseball . . .
- Rickey Henderson (right) of the Oakland Athletics steals 130 bases, breaking Lou Brock's record of 118.
- Willie Wilson sits out the Kansas City Royals' final game to protect his lead over Milwaukee's Robin Yount in their duel for the American League batting title.
- Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn is fired by the owners.
- The Pittsburgh Pirates' Willie Stargell, the team leader in home runs, RBIs and eight other categories, retires.
- St. Louis catcher Darrell Porter wins the World Series MVP award as Cardinals defeat Brewers in seven games.
. . . and the world
- Leonid Brezhnev dies, and KGB chief Yuri Andropov takes over Soviet Union.
- The unemployment rate rises above 10 percent.
- "Dynasty" and "Dallas" battle for TV's top spot.
- "E.T." becomes the highest all-time grossing movie.
- Michael Jackson's album "Thriller" is released.
- John Belushi dies of a drug overdose.
- Kurt Schmoke upsets incumbent William Swisher in the Democratic primary for Baltimore city state's attorney.