Dad fired at 0-6 Cal Jr. left to suffer in silence THE RIPKEN YEARS: 1988

July 16, 1995|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,Sun Staff Writer

He didn't say much. Six games into the 1988 season, his father, Cal Ripken Sr., was fired as the Orioles manager. It erased 31 years of service to one organization and ended a family dream.

It was obvious that Cal Jr. was bitter. He publicly acknowledged that but went no further. Cal Jr. reacted to the biggest disappointment of his career by retreating into silence. Prideful, professional silence.

"He got real quiet when that stuff happened," former Orioles pitcher Scott McGregor said.

McGregor had watched Ripken grow up over the previous six years. His locker was right next to Ripken's. The veteran pitcher envied the young shortstop's childlike exuberance in the clubhouse - the wrestling matches, the wadded-tape ballgames - and his success on the field.

The day Cal Jr. and his brother and double-play partner, Bill, heard about their father's firing was the day baseball became a business for them.

Neither the Ripkens nor their teammates believed the firing was justified. The Orioles lost their first six games, Cal Sr. was replaced by Frank Robinson, and the Orioles lost 15 more. Their 0-21 start set a major-league record for futility.

"It wasn't even fair," McGregor said. "We were going to lose for anybody at that point. It didn't matter if it was Cal Sr. or Frank or God."

"In this game, the manager gets fired a lot and 99 percent of the time it's not his fault," former Orioles first baseman Jim Traber said. "It's more aggravating when it's your father."

Ripken's teammates admired the way he handled a very public family crisis.

"To his credit, you couldn't really tell," said former Orioles pitcher Jeff Ballard. "You know that it bothers [Cal and Bill]. It would have bothered anybody. It would have bothered me if it were my dad. To their credit, they never really talked bad about the organization."

But it initially affected Cal Jr. on the field. His desire and competitiveness weren't diminished, but his production was. He batted .047 (2-for-43) during the first 12 games, including an 0-for-29 streak, the longest of his career at that point.

His father was his manager, his hitting instructor and his inspiration. Cal Jr. seemed lost.

"I think that Junior was probably more upset than Senior," Traber said. "It was a dream of his to play for his father in the big leagues."

Maybe the kiss he received from Morganna the Kissing Bandit made him feel better. That came on May 2, when 50,402 people packed Memorial Stadium after the Orioles broke their 0-21 skid. By then, Cal Jr. had gotten hot. After his first 12 games, he hit safely in 16 of his next 17 and batted .527 (29-for-55) to raise his average to .316 on May 8.

Bill was more upset than Cal Jr. and never recovered. He finished the season with a .207 average.

"I think if anybody was going to say anything, Bill would have," said Jimmy Williams, a longtime Ripken family friend and member of Cal Sr.'s coaching staff in 1987.

Bill followed his older brother's lead and said nothing. A few days after the managerial change, he switched his number from 3 to 7 in honor of his father. It was a silent protest.

Cal Jr. was bitter, but not bitter enough to protest and not bitter enough to leave the Orioles at the end of the season. A potential free agent, he signed a three-year, $6.3 million contract extension at midseason. The Orioles finished with a club-record 107 losses, pledged to begin a massive rebuilding campaign, and made Cal Jr. the centerpiece.

It was the most difficult season of his career, but the season baseball became a business for Cal Jr. did not deter the nonstop shortstop. He finished with a .264 average, 23 home runs and 81 RBIs, and he extended his consecutive-games streak to 1,088, a little more than halfway to Lou Gehrig's record.

From time to time, McGregor would ask Cal Jr. about his father. "He's doing good," Cal Jr. would tersely reply. He never volunteered any information or bemoaned the way his old man was treated. Like the rest of the Ripken family, Cal Jr. found dignity in silence.

"It was a character-builder for him. He showed a lot of character dealing with adversity," McGregor said. "But he always went out there and played."

SEASON HIGHLIGHTS

* Is co-winner for the second time with Eddie Murray of the Most Valuable Oriole award.

* Ranks third in the league with a career-high 102 walks.

L * Ties for the American League lead in sacrifice flies (10).

* Leads Orioles in runs, and is second in homers, RBIs and doubles.

* Leads major-league shortstops in homers and RBIs for the fifth time in six years.

* Hits seven home runs in 17 games after agreeing to a new three-year contract on July 27.

* Starts in the All-Star Game for the fifth straight year.

* Leads American League shortstops in putouts (284), and is third in assists (480), second in total chances (785) and fourth in errors (21).

* Becomes only the second shortstop to hit 20 or more home runs in seven straight seasons.

* Is one of only five major-leaguers to hit 20 or more home runs in those seven seasons.

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