Cal Ripken Sr., whose contributions to the Baltimore Orioles extended well beyond fathering and tutoring of one of the best players in the history of the franchise, died Thursday. He was 63.
Ripken, who died at about 4:15 p.m. EST at Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, spent 36 years in the Orioles organization as a player, scout, coach and manager. He also found time to raise a family that included Cal Ripken Jr., who joined the Orioles in 1982 and set baseball's iron-man record, and infielder Bill Ripken, who also played in Baltimore.
"We always talk about the Oriole Way. Cal Ripken Sr. was the one who indoctrinated every one of us who came in," said Baltimore manager Ray Miller, who served under Ripken as a pitching coach.
Ripken Sr. had leathered skin and a gruff voice, characteristics at least partially attributable to his heavy smoking. Back in the days when smoking on the field wasn't taboo, he often cupped a filterless cigarette in his palm while watching batting practice or in the dugout.
Ripken taught Cal and Bill about baseball while serving as a minor league manager. He won 964 games in the minors and was 68-101 as manager of the Orioles in 1987-88.
"Cal Sr. played an important role in many of the successes of the Orioles. Players at all levels of development benefited from his vast knowledge of the game and his teaching skills," then-general manager Roland Hemond said after Ripken was removed as Baltimore's third-base coach in 1992.
Ripken Sr. was offered another job within the organization but instead retired.
In 1987, Ripken Sr. became the first father ever to manage two sons simultaneously in the majors. Cal was the midst of a major league record consecutive games streak that would extend to 2,632 games. Bill was the Orioles' second baseman.
Ripken Sr. was fired as manager after the Orioles opened the 1988 season with six straight losses in what would be ultimately a record 21-game losing streak.
Ripken Sr. began his career with the Orioles as a catcher with the team's Phoenix farm club in 1957. He ended his undistinguished playing career in 1964, having never reached the major leagues.
His 13-plus years in the Baltimore farm system is the longest tenure of any minor league manager in Orioles history. During those 13 seasons, Ripken Sr. worked odd jobs during the winter because baseball didn't pay him enough to support a family of six.
He often brought his boys to the ballpark, but left most of the development of the family's four children to their mother, Vi.
"It was just as if their father was a truck driver - he was away from home a lot, and you just had to live with it," Vi Ripken said.
"I resented baseball for taking away my father," Cal Jr. once said. Baseball didn't allow him to spend much time with me when I was growing up."
They made up for lost time when Cal Jr. joined the team in 1981 and Bill came aboard in 1987.
At the time, Cal Sr. downplayed his unique baseball association with his boys. But he said it would be something he would look back at fondly after retiring.
| Billy, Cal Sr. and Cal Jr. all came up through the Orioles organization. (AP)|
"We just happen to be in the same business at the same place," he said in 1992. "Maybe years from now, when I'm reflecting upon things in my rocking chair, I'll smile about all this. But for now they're just a second baseman and a shortstop on this ballclub."
Cal Jr. viewed his father as the inspiration for his incredible consecutive games streak.
When young Cal was 16, his dad hooked a snowplow to a tractor in an effort to help clear the neighborhood. The tractor stalled, and when Cal Sr. tried to get it going, a crank flew off and hit him in the forehead.
Cal Sr. pressed an oily rag to his head in an effort to stop the bleeding while his scared son got him into the family car. But instead of driving to a hospital, Cal Sr. told his son to drive home. There, Cal Jr. watched his dad put on some butterfly bandages, then saw him head back to the plow to finish the job.
"When I get the feeling that things are a little low, that I need a little motivation to work on my hitting, I visualize the tractor-crank story. That pushes me," Cal Ripken said in the midst of his streak.
"I think of that story more than any other. Sometimes I'm beating my head against the wall and not getting any results at the plate, and I'm wondering if my effort is worth it all. That story sums it all up for me."
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