Not even iron grip could stop club's slip

The Ripken Years: 1986

September 15, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Of all the lessons learned by Cal Ripken, perhaps none was tougher than what came in 1986.

That's the year Ripken learned to lose.

The Orioles finished last in the American League East, 22 games out of first place. It was the first time since 1967 that they ended a season below .500.

Eddie Murray asked for a trade after owner Edward Bennett Williams told the media Murray was "doing nothing." Players noted that Earl Weaver, lured out of retirement by Williams to manage the club the previous season, lacked the fire he once possessed. So it was left to Ripken to hold together as much of the team as possible.

For the fourth straight season, Ripken led all shortstops in home runs (25), RBIs (81), runs (98) and slugging percentage (.461). He batted .379 with seven homers and 21 RBIs in July, and the Orioles were two games behind Boston on Aug. 6.

That's when they collapsed - when even the vise-like grip of Ripken couldn't hold them.

They lost to the Texas Rangers that night, 13-11, despite hitting two grand slams in the same inning, and went into a 14-42 skid. They were swept in consecutive doubleheaders in Oakland, twice mishandling ninth-inning leads.

Pitcher Scott McGregor noticed Ripken "pressing because he had to carry it." Ripken batted .250 in August and .254 in September and October, but he continued to exhibit the traits of a leader.

Jim Traber, who took over first base when Murray went on the disabled list for the first time in his career, said "sometimes [Ripken] was a silent leader, sometimes he was a vocal one."

He remained a dependable player in the clutch, tying Toronto's George Bell and New York's Don Mattingly for the AL lead with 15 game-winning RBIs. He became the first player other than Murray to lead the team in home runs since Ken Singleton in 1979, and made his third consecutive start in the All-Star Game. Among AL shortstops, only Toronto's Tony Fernandez (.983) had a better fielding percentage than Ripken's .982.

He led the Orioles in eight offensive categories but couldn't lead them out of the division cellar.

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