Q&A with Bill Ripken on the 1989 Orioles

Nobody expected anything of you guys and you surprised a lot of people.

Bill Ripken: I think it just started off winning series. Talk about a stark contrast of one year versus the next, 1988 to '89. It was a good group of guys to be around. It seemed like the planets were kind of aligning. The thing that stands out first and foremost is defensively we were better than any team we played against. We didn't make mistakes. We caught the ball. We made great plays and we just seemed to have this momentum that every night when we went out there we thought we would win. It was a change in attitude from one year to the next.

You had a older manager, but you were a bunch of young whipper snappers ...

Bill Ripken: And probably didn't know any better. When you look back at it, to go to Toronto for the last three games and only be one back, I don't think we realized that we didn't match up with them. On paper, we didn't match up, but in our hearts and the way we played all the way through that year, we felt we did. Maybe the youthfulness had something to do with that. That last series, the first game, we were winning. The second game, we had ourselves in position.

What was the mind-set on the trip up to Toronto and in the clubhouse, knowing that you needed three of three to win the pennant and two of three to force a playoff back in Baltimore?

Bill Ripken: I don't think there was anything out of the normal. Every time we won two out of three somewhere, we'd look around and say, 'We won that series,' and then the next series, 'We won that series.' It just seemed like another two out of three that we needed to win. Our mind-set was, 'This is what's gonna happen.' After losing that first game in 11 innings, it just seemed like, 'OK, we win these next two and we've got it.'

If you guys had gotten it back to Baltimore, was there any doubt in your minds that you were going to win?

Bill Ripken: I don't think so. We were a confident group. We knew what we were accomplishing. At the same time, we looked at each other and asked, 'Can you believe this is happening?' We envisioned winning two out of three, bringing it back to Baltimore. We actually believed that we would bring it home and win it.

So this wasn't like the 2004 Red Sox group of "Idiots," as Johnny Damon labeled his teammates.

Bill Ripken: I don't think that the Red Sox were a group of idiots. I understand how that all kind of played out: Here's a bunch of misfits who all got together and went out there and played. I understand the marketability of that. They knew what they were doing. We had some characters of our own on that team, but we played as a unit that year, similar to the Red Sox, you could say. The only thing is, they went on and then won the whole thing. The only way you can be considered to have chemistry is if you win. Our 1988 team had as much chemistry and a group of guys that got along as well as any team I've ever played on. There were a lot of the same guys on the '89 team as the '88 team, but because we did what we did in '88, nobody's ever going to look at that team and say there's chemistry. But they can turn around and look at the '89 team and say there was.

What was the feeling on the team when you heard after Game 1 that Pete Harnisch stepped on a nail and wouldn't be pitching Game 2?

Bill Ripken: You've got one of the cleanest cities in the world in Toronto and you got a guy who walked home from the ballpark to the hotel and ends up stepping on a nail. We all looked at each other and said, 'What's going on here?' [laughs]. But then you get "Dundalk" Dave Johnson to take the hill, right, and went out there with one of the guttiest performances that you could have. That points to another thing that club did. Cal [Ripken Jr.] was in the middle of the order, but when you paired-up position-wise against every other team we played against, you'd give the nod to Cal over their guy and that was about it. It was a group of guys that did everything that had to do to help the ball club win. Pete Harnisch is a guy we wanted to have take the hill and when he couldn't, Dave Johnson goes out there and battles and gives you an effort. You sit back and say, 'You know what? There's some magic going on here.'

But to be so lucky up to that critical point and then have it all go against you ...

Bill Ripken: I don't know if the baseball gods were laughing at us or it just all caught up to us at the most critical time of the year. Maybe the baseball gods were looking at us saying, 'What were you guys thinking?' We were in Toronto. They were a very good team. But it was a lot of fun, going down to wire. It was a lot of good memories I wouldn't trade for anything, even coming up short.

Did you think 1990 was going to be another good year with even better results?

Bill Ripken: When you have that kind of experience, you want to go back the next year and do the same thing but go farther. But maybe the reality is we overachieved that year and never got back to that point.

Baltimore made other runs, in 1996 and '97, and actually made it into the playoffs. Why do you think the '89 Orioles hold such a special place in the hearts of fans?

Bill Ripken: All you need to do is go out there and show an effort every single day and Orioles fans respond to that. The Miracle on 33rd Street, the '83 team that won the World Series, I think people go back to that. But we were a group of guys in '89 that got it handed to us in '88. I think there was a resiliency in the club. I think there was this magic where there was different hero every night, there was an attitude about us that fans understood. There was a blue-collar mentality that we would do what it took to win and I think that's all the city of Baltimore wants to see. I think it's a tribute to the fans of Baltimore that we went down to the wire and didn't win and they still remember us.