Special News Update: Cal Ripken Sr.

March 25
Cal Ripken Sr. 1935-1999

Cal Ripken Sr., a native of Aberdeen, MD, and a longtime member of the Orioles family, passed away today. He died at 4:15 Thursday afternoon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, just six months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Ripken is best known to the casual fan as the father of Cal Ripken Jr. and Billy Ripken, but he spent 36 years in the Orioles organization.

He will always be known among true Orioles fans as the primary proponent of The Oriole Way, a philosophy which represented the Right Way To Run a Team. It emphasized team over individual, competence over flashiness, performance over public posturing, teaching the same skills to everyone from Rookie level to the major leagues. Ripken Jr. repeatedly credited his father for teaching him his approach to the game: showing up every day ready to play, practicing hard, perfectionism, and never complaining. "Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect" was the slogan Cal attributed to him. But Ripken Sr. was mentor to scores of longtime Orioles, not just his sons, and if there was any drawback to his role with the organization, it was the fact that his work in the minors kept him away from his sons for long periods of time. Minor league employment didn't pay well, and Ripken Sr. had to work odd jobs in the winter to make ends meet.

Ripken started as a catcher with their Phoenix affiliate in 1957, enjoying his best season in 1960 with Fox Cities. The next year he became player-manager, and he became a full-time manager in 1965. He won 964 games in his team-record fourteen year career as a minor league manager in such places as Miami, Elmira (NY), Rochester, and the other Aberdeen (in South Dakota), finishing first or second seven times before becoming third base coach in 1976.

For many years he was thought to be the heir apparent to Earl Weaver, and by all accounts was very hurt when the Orioles hired Joe Altobelli to replace Weaver as manager in 1983. But he loyally remained as third base coach and kept his complaints to himself, and finally realized his dream in 1987, after Earl Weaver retired for the second time. But he inherited a team much like the current Orioles, filled with unproductive veterans and a weak farm system, and the team finished 68-95. The highlight of his managerial tenure came in midseason, when the team called up Billy Ripken, making Cal Sr. the first to ever manage two sons at the same time. He also became the first manager to take Cal Jr. out of a ballgame since the Streak began in 1982, snapping Cal's consecutive inning streak at 8243 (904 games) on September 14, 1987, in an embarassing blowout loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

The consensus was that Ripken deserved more time to show what he could do as manager, but the Orioles started the 1988 season 0-6, and Ripken was perceived as doing nothing about it. He was criticized for failing to change the lineup, and was fired and replaced by Frank Robinson. (The team went on to a record 0-21 start to the season under Robinson.)

Ripken returned as third base coach in 1989, somewhat bitter but still the consummate organization man he had always been. He remained in that position until 1992, when he was fired, officially over some bad decisions he made with baserunners, but more likely because of personality conflicts. Ripken Jr. was struggling for most of the year, but was refusing to listen to anybody but his father. Soon after Ripken Jr. signed a longterm deal with the team, his father was let go. At the end of the year, his brother Billy was also released, and Cal Jr. was never quite as enthusiastic about the organization as he had been.

After Ripken Sr.'s replacement as third base coach, he was offered another position with the organization, as is customary, but he declined. For the first time in decades, he wasn't working in professional baseball, but after a short retirement, he began running the Cal Ripken Baseball School, a summer camp for children, at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md.

Ripken is the third longtime Oriole to be lost within the last two years. PA announcer Rex Barney died on August 12, 1997, and shortstop Mark Belanger died of lung cancer on October 6, 1998. In addition, prospect Joel Stephens died of colon cancer on October 1, 1998. (In addition, first baseman and current barbeque stand operator Boog Powell, as well as outfielder Eric Davis, were both diagnosed with colon cancer in recent years, although Davis has fortunately made a full recovery.)

Ripken is survived by his wife Vi, his sons Cal, Bill, and Fred, and his daughter Ellen, as well as six grandchildren. The Orioles released a statement which read, "The Ripken family appreciates your expressions of condolence, and are grateful for your continued respect for their privacy as they mourn their loss. In lieu of flowers, donations may be directed to the Boys and Girls Club of Harford County, Maryland Special Olympics, or the Ripken Museum. The family also plans to establish a foundation in Cal, Sr.'s memory, devoted to teaching our youth the craft of baseball."

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Last Updated: March 26, 1999