At 3rd, short, slow-starting kid wins over Weaver, AL

The Ripken Years : 1982.

September 11, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

This is where The Streak began, in 1982, its inception dependent on the patience of manager Earl Weaver, who continued to write Cal Ripken's name into the lineup until the kid proved he belonged.

Ripken batted .128 with no RBIs in 23 games with the Orioles in 1981, leaving his rookie status - and plenty of doubts about his readiness for the majors - intact for the next season. But even a 4-for-55 slump didn't deter Weaver, who kept playing Ripken every day after sitting him for the second game of a May 29 doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays.

It was a wise move, which led to another one. Ripken was converted from a third baseman to a shortstop, and responded by being named the American League's Rookie of the Year after batting .264 with 32 doubles, five triples, 28 homers, 93 RBIs and 90 runs.

"Earl understood very early on that, instead of having to sacrifice offense at shortstop, you could put Cal out there and, because of his agility and athleticism and knowledge of the game, he'd figure out how to play shortstop," Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer said.

Ripken still was trying to figure out how to hit major-league pitching. His first homer came on Opening Day against Kansas City's Dennis Leonard. He also had two other hits that afternoon, but was batting .117 on May 1. The next day, he was beaned by Oakland rookie Mike Moore, leaving a grapefruit-sized hole in his batting helmet, but missed only one game.

He never left the lineup after the May 29 nightcap until voluntarily ending The Streak in September 1998. Ripken already was developing a reputation for coming through in the clutch by leading all major-league rookies with 11 game-winning RBIs.

His first stolen base came on May 31, when he swiped home on the front end of a double steal with infielder Lenn Sakata. The season also included Ripken's first grand slam, off New York's Mike Morgan during a Sept. 14 game at Memorial Stadium. By then, almost a month had passed since he tied the club record with five hits against Texas.

Thanks in large part to Ripken's contributions - which included 44 consecutive errorless games at third base - the Orioles remained in contention for the AL East Division crown until the final game, Weaver's last as manager before coming out of retirement three years later to be reunited with the player who rewarded his faith.

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