On this day in 1995, Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. plays in his 2,131st consecutive game, breaking “Iron Horse” Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played. “The Iron Man” was credited with reviving interest in baseball after a 1994 work stoppage forced the cancellation of the World Series and soured fans on the national pastime.
Ripken’s father, Cal Sr., was a former minor league journeyman catcher who, along with his wife Vi, instilled the “perfect practice makes perfect” philosophy in Cal and his younger brother Billy. Cal was a high school pitcher and shortstop for Aberdeen High School in Maryland while his father coached for Manager Earl Weaver’s Orioles, one of the most successful teams in baseball from the 1960s through the early 80s. Cal Jr. often got to take infield with the team, and learned the tricks of the trade from the best in the business. In 1978, the O’s made Cal their second-round pick in the amateur draft. He made his major league debut three years later, and on May 30, 1982, began a streak of consecutive games played that would last 17 seasons. Later that year, Weaver switched the 6’4″ Ripken from third base to shortstop, a position that was at the time typically played by smaller men. Ripken’s quickness and great baseball instincts made him a natural, and his success redefined the shortstop archetype. Ripken was named Rookie of the Year in 1982 and American League MVP in 1983 and 1991.
On September 6, 1995, 13 and a half seasons and 2,131 games into his streak, Ripken took his familiar position at shortstop. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and Ripken’s family were among the notables in attendance. In the fourth inning, Ripken ripped a 3-0 fastball from California Angels pitcher Shawn Boskie into the left-field stands, touching off a celebration from the Baltimore faithful, and inspiring even President Clinton to pump his fists in the stands. When the fifth inning began and the game became official, the Orioles unfurled a banner that read 2131 on the brick wall of the B & O Warehouse overlooking right field as camera flashes lit the night. Ripken emerged from the dugout and doffed his cap to thank the crowd, but the celebration in the stands continued. Teammates urged Ripken once again onto the field, where he took a spontaneous victory lap, shaking hands with Orioles fans around the stadium.
Ripken went on to play 2,632 games in a row before ending the streak by voluntarily removing himself from a game against the New York Yankees on September 19, 1998.
Ripken retired after the 2001 season with the lifetime record for home runs by a shortstop (345) and a record for fielding percentage by a shortstop in a season (.9956, 1990). He played in 19 All-Star Games, and was awarded the All-Star MVP in 1991 and in his last All-Star Game in 2001, in which he hit a solo home run. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. A record 75,000 fans attended his induction ceremony.