Ripken belatedly hits record book

February 10, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

The night of July 15 may not pop readily into memory, but it was a very important evening for Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken. His game-winning home run bailed out Ben McDonald and -- though nobody noticed at the time -- made him the greatest power-hitting shortstop in baseball history.

Say what? Ripken's home run off Minnesota Twins starter Scott Erickson moved him past Hall of Famer Ernie Banks and to the top of the all-time home run list for shortstops with 278, but it went unnoticed by Ripken and the Orioles because of a statistical correction made several years earlier by the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Orioles had been tracking Ripken's home runs as a shortstop in anticipation of his passing Banks this season, but they were not notified four years ago when the Elias statistical service discovered Banks' 26-year-old record of 293 included 16 homers he hitas a first baseman. Ripken appears as a new entry in the latest baseball record book, but his big moment passed without fanfare.

So yesterday, the Orioles tried to make things right, holding a ceremony at Camden Yards to honor Ripken for what will be remembered as one of his greatest achievements. The club showed a videotape of the home run, then reran it with a new audio track by HTS broadcaster Mel Proctor to reflect its significance. The team also unveiled a commemorative seat in the left-field bleachers where the ball landed and flew in Banks to take part in the festivities.

"It was a tremendous feat for Cal and one we are embarrassed we didn't acknowledge at the time," said Orioles public relations director Rick Vaughn. "There's not anybody that is totally to blame, but it's still a little embarrassing. It was a very important achievement."

The Orioles managed to turn the oversight into a coup, bringing together Ripken and Banks to warm up one of the waning days of the off-season.

"You have a young man here in Baltimore who is highly talented and a real professional," said Banks, who presented Ripken with commemorative bat. "He is a true example of how to deal with success. I'm sincerely happy that he broke this record, because it gives me a chance to come back and be remembered, too."

Ripken had fond memories of the home run, but not because it wrote his name into the record book. It stood out in his mind because of the effect it had on the game and the fortunes of McDonald.

"I remember it because the game was tied and Ben had developed a blister on his pitching hand," Ripken said. "Ben pitched as well as anybody during the second half of last year, but he really was a hard-luck pitcher. He was still the pitcher of record, and as I was going to the plate, Rick Sutcliffe came over to me and said, 'Hit a home run.'

"I really didn't know what to think. I didn't know if he said that to fire me up or what, but that was one time I went up to the plate and tried to hit a home run. The first pitch was a breaking ball away, and I laid off it. The next one I managed to get a pretty good piece of the bat on."

The ball settled into the left-field stands, the crowd went crazy and the Orioles went on to win, but no one understood the real significance of the event at the time.

"It's unfortunate because it would have been a great night for Cal and the fans to share," said general manager Roland Hemond in the club's prepared statement, "but it certainly doesn't do anything to tarnish the milestone. Whenever you are in thesame company with Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, you know you've accomplished something significant."

Ripken took no offense. He has shied away from trumpeting his individual accomplishments, and again accepted the accolades almost sheepishly.

"I'm kind of glad I didn't know," Ripken said. "I'm the kind of player who puts pressure on himself in situations like that, so I probably wouldn't have hit another home run all year."

Ripken went on to hit 24 home runs and pile up 90 RBIs. He has 289 home runs as a shortstop and 297 in all. Early this season, he figures to become the 66th player in major-league history to hit 300 homers or more.

The ceremony yesterday also included a testimonial from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who lauded Ripken for his continued contributions to the city's literacy effort.

GLENN DAVIS JOINS METS

Glenn Davis, released by the Orioles last September after three injury-filled seasons, signs a minor-league contract with the New York Mets and is invited to spring training.

HRS BY SHORTSTOPS

Player.. .. .. .. .. .. HRs

Cal Ripken .. .. .. .. 289

Ernie Banks .. .. .. .. 277

Vern Stephens .. .. .. 213

Joe Cronin .. .. .. .. 170

Pee Wee Reese .. .. .. 126

Honus Wagner .. .. .. ..101

Arky Vaughan .. .. .. .. 96

Luis Aparicio .. .. .. ..83

Lou Boudreau .. .. .. .. 68

Luke Appling .. .. .. .. 45

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