5. Ripken’s 3000th hit
The decade started out with some history for the Orioles coming from a familiar source. On April 15, 2000 Cal Ripken Jr. collected his 3000th hit in Minnesota off Twins reliever Hector Carrasco.
2000 had started off slow for Ripken, whose 1999 season was cut short due to back spasms, he was barely over the mendoza line coming into the game that night and people were questioning whether this was his last season in the game. But Ripken would break out of his funk that night, going 4-5 and playing a solid third base, as everyone was used to seeing.
In the seventh inning and with one out Ripken stepped to the plate. With Albert Belle on third and the game tied at four Ripken came up to face Carrasco. Everyone on Minnesota knew that Cal was one hit away from history and the crowd came to their feet. Suddenly, Carrasco uncorked a curveball that got away from catcher Matt LeCroy. Belle would score on the passed ball – no RBI for Cal that night. The next pitch was laced into CF for a base hit. Cal’s 3000th. The crowd stood and cheered and the Metrodome scoreboard made not of the historic line-drive.
With that hit Ripken became just the sixth player in baseball history to collect 3000 hits and 400 homeruns. That single solidified Ripken’s name in the history books next to the likes of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and former Oriole Eddie Murray.
The rest of 2000 would not be as kind to Cal. Injuries began to derail the Ironman as he played in only 83 games that year the fewest number of games since he became a full time player in 1982. Ripken would soldier through though, but everyone knew that Cal, The Ironman, and the most identifiable Oriole of a generation would not be long for the game.
4. Cal Ripken Jr.’s last game
What else needs to be said? Cal Ripken Jr.’s last game. There is a serious part of me that wishes this to be number one. How often do players like Ripken come through the game? How often come through your team? How often do they stay on the same team for their entire career?
Every team will have a Hall of Famer at some point. Every team will have a great player/ leader come through their ranks. But Ripken was a legend. Ripken was a symbol of what baseball was, is and should be. He is the Gold Standard by which other shortstops are judged. He is the type of players that fathers want their sons to become.
Ripken was able to say goodbye to the game in Baltimore, but only because the September 11th attacks postponed a Baltimore-Yankee series in New York. Through that horrific bit of irony the city of Baltimore got to say farewell to their native son.
Ripken’s career is simply one of legend. The streak aside; Ripken (as mentioned above) is one of only seven players in history to have collected 400 Hrs and over 3,000 hits. No shortstop has hit more homeruns and he is largely credited for revolutionizing the position. Prior to Cal shortstops were “all glove, no bat” type players (Think Mark Belanger or Ceasar Izturis) but Cal’s superior bat and defensive agility quickly made him one of the best at his role.
Today, the Orioles are still suffering from an era without Ripken. I call it “hero-withdraw”. We are still waiting for “The next Ripken,” much like Yankees fans will eventually search for “the next Jeter” and the entire NBA is still looking for “the next Jordan”. Orioles fans still debate “the face of the franchise” and we are desperately hoping for someone like Markakis or Roberts or Wieters to step up and try to fill the whole that Ripken left with his retirement. But the reality is this Orioles fans – there will never, NEVER, be another Cal Ripken Jr. He wasn’t just a Hall of Famer he was a legend and we are forever blessed that we had the privilege to cheer for him.
3. Palmeiro Steroid Controversy
After writing that section it literally makes me ill to write this next story. Rafael Palmeiro, Oriole first baseman and DH, was signed in 2003 with Tejada and catcher Javy Lopez during a flurry of activity that offseason to really make strides the following year. And things were looking good. 2004 was another losing season but the Orioles got really hot in the Spring of 2005.
The Spring saw the Orioles in first place well into May. Miguel Tejada was having a fantastic year with the bat and on the field, Raffy was chasing history, he would become just the third member of the 500 HR – 3,000 hit club that year. But it all came unraveled.
Jose Canseco released his book Juiced that year in which he named Raffy as a steroid user. That would lead to Palmeiro’s now famous finger-pointing denial of ever using steroids in front of a Congressional Oversight committee. That was in March.
On August 1 Palmeiro was suspended by MLB for testing positive for a banned anabolic steroid. Orioles fans were crushed. In the mean time the team was crumbling after their hot start and the added distraction and turmoil of the Palmeiro investigation did not help matters.
The Orioles would go on to win only 23 of their final 58 games crashing from a first-place spring to a fourth-place fall. Palmeiro’s controversy was not the sole reason for the Orioles’ collapse but it was just another hard punch to the gut of Birdland. Raffy was the type of person people defended, no one actually believed Canseco’s claims – no one believed Raffy could do that. He did not look like someone who would have gotten wrapped up in that. But he did, it was true, we were not clean and neither was Raffy.
Palmeiro was the first superstar that got tagged for using PED’s he showed the baseball world that no one was safe and that even potential Hall of Famers must obey the new, tougher laws. Palmeiro has since vanished from the public eye. Last word on him was that he was still maintaining his innocence and saying that he never “intentionally” injected steroids into his body. Raffy always said he would tell his side of the story, we are still waiting to hear it – but at this point I don’t think anyone will be listening.
Stay tuned for the NUMBER 1 and NUMBER 2 moments of the Orioles’ Deacde.