Perhaps the best way to appreciate what Cal Ripken accomplished this year is to try to find a way to put it into perspective.
Brooks Robinson, the Hall of Fame third baseman, once made as many errors in one game as Ripken did in an entire season.
"I did it once in one inning," said Tom McCraw, the Orioles' hitting coach who was a good enough fielder to lead American League first basemen in assists in 1968.
Floyd Rayford, a former roommate of Ripken's, also was charged with three errors in one inning -- four in the game.
"When you stop to think about it, what he did was unbelievable," Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said after last night's 3-2 win over Toronto that concluded the season. "To play every game and make only three errors was amazing."
Manager Frank Robinson took it a step further. "I saw it and I still don't believe it," he said. "It's mind-boggling to think you could do something like that. It's not just the number of games. It's all those chances -- and plays that aren't even chances unless you mess them up, like handling the ball from the outfield and making relay throws.
"When you think of all the chances he had to make errors, and then realize he made only three, it blows you away," said Robinson. "It's almost impossible to imagine."
Ripken's .996 fielding percentage and the three errors are the best ever for an infielder at any position other than first base. Yet, incredibly, he's not even sure it was his best year.
"Statistically it was obviously the best," he said. "But overall I think that 1984 was my best year. I made a lot of errors , but I took a lot of chances [a career-high 906, including an American League record 583 assists].
"With that pitching staff, it seemed I knew them so well that I could 'cheat' more. This year I can't say that -- this staff is younger and I'm still learning them."
Despite excellent defensive credentials, Ripken has never won a Gold Glove and despite his record achievements he might not win this year either. It would be a disappointment, but not necessarily a surprise.
Does he think he is being slighted?
"I don't feel I'm slighted," he said. "I just go unnoticed. I think a lot of it is because of my style of play -- it can be pretty boring, and everything looks routine. The best compliment I've been paid is that I make it look easy -- that it doesn't look so hard.
"I don't know the process [for selecting Gold Glove winners] and it's one of those things that's out of my control, so I try to push those thoughts out of my mind."
Gold Glove winners are selected by vote of managers and coaches, who are not permitted to vote for their own players. Until now at least Ripken's style has not been conducive to winning votes. "He's got to win it this year," said brother Bill, the second baseman who will get consideration himself this year. "How could he not win it?"
The two Ripkens combined to make only 11 errors as the regular double-play combination, the lowest total by a regular duo in major-league history. Cal says that plays a part in his success.
"The stability in the infield, not just with Bill at second, but with Craig [Worthington] at third base, has been an influence," he said. "The familiarity helped us a lot."
In the past, Ripken has always been considered an offensive shortstop whose defense was a bonus seldom recognized. The last couple of years his offense has slipped, most notably his average, and he admits that 1990 was the toughest of them all. "Hitting, it was my hardest year," he said. "I really struggled and seemed to hit rock bottom about July.
"But I felt good that I was able to battle out of it. I feel good about that -- the season just ran out of time. I'm just hoping that it carries over to next year."
Ripken finished with 21 homers, matching his career low, and 84 runs batted in, his second lowest total, but both figures led the club. His .250 batting average was also the lowest of his career.
But none of those figures is as significant as the other all-time low established by Cal Ripken.
Fewest errors, season -- 3.