O's losses mount, but Cal remains steady force

The Ripken Years: 1988

September 17, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Slow starts engulfed Cal Ripken and the Orioles in 1988. Only Ripken made any sort of recovery.

Through 12 games, Ripken had only two hits in 43 at-bats (.047). An 0-for-29 stretch was the worst of his career. But Ripken suddenly got hot under the most difficult circumstances - both personal and professional - going 29-for-55 (.527) to raise his average to .316 on May 8.

He hit safely in 16 of 17 games. The Orioles hit rock bottom.

There were 21 consecutive losses, the worst start in major-league history and easy fodder for late-night talk shows. And there was Cal Sr.'s firing as manager after six games, which was deemed grossly unfair within a stunned clubhouse.

Frank Robinson replaced him and lost an additional 15 games before the Orioles experienced their first win, proving that the greatest deficiency wasn't in the manager's office. Not that this was any consolation to Ripken or his brother, Bill, the Orioles' second baseman.

They lost a club-record 107 games, but Ripken's final numbers - .264 average, 23 homers, 81 RBIs and a career-high 102 walks - were respectable. His reaction to his father's dismissal was typically stoic.

Pitcher Scott McGregor recalled that Ripken "got real quiet when that stuff happened," though everyone knew he was bitter. Even so, Ripken chose to continue his career in Baltimore rather than leave as a free agent. He signed a three-year, $6.3 million contract extension on July 27 and joined Eddie Murray as co-winner of the Most Valuable Oriole award. He homered in seven of 17 games after agreeing to a new deal.

At least there was one comedic moment in Ripken's season. While batting on May 2, the night 50,402 fans packed Memorial Stadium to welcome the Orioles after they finally won a game, Ripken was approached by Morganna, the Kissing Bandit, who left her calling card on his cheek.

Ripken led American League shortstops in homers and RBIs for the fifth time in six seasons. He also ranked first in putouts with 284, second in total chances with 785, third in assists with 480 and fourth in errors with 21. He joined Hall of Famer Ernie Banks as the only shortstops to hit at least 20 homers in seven straight years.

Ripken also made his fifth straight start in the All-Star Game, though he finished second in the fan voting. He replaced the Detroit Tigers' Alan Trammell, who couldn't play because of an injury.




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