Last year we had the opportunity to speak with former Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. and during that time we asked him about his consecutive games record, unbreakable streaks in general and the direction of the of his former club. This year we got another opportunity and used it to talk to the Hall of Famer about what it's like to get off to a difficult start and the consequences for PED users. We also followed up our question from the previous season, about whether or not he still has interest in re-joining the MLB as either a manager or in a front office position. With all that out of the way here's what the TBS broadcaster told us:
Interview by Gavin Evans
Why don’t you start off by telling us about the “Never Miss a Game” partnership you have with Kellogg.
Yep, it’s part of Kellogg. Kellogg’s partnering with MLB to celebrate the baseball fan. And it’s all about the fan that goes to great, extraordinary lengths, to never miss a game. Some of the stories that we’ve gotten already; there’s a guy who almost missed the birth of his own child because he stepped out to watch extra innings of a playoff game. That’s a cool story. He got back in time.
I personally get it because I went to a state dinner one time and it was the final game of the National League Championship Series and I had a Secret Service agent give me updates every fifteen minutes while I sat at the Presidents table. We’re looking for those kind of stories from all you fans that’re out there that can share the story with #NeverMissAGame [on Twitter] and there’s a lot of great prizes. Basically, the whole campaign’s about celebrating the total fanatic fan that goes to great lengths so he doesn’t miss a game.
Is there anything you did, specifically, during your career to avoid injury to keep the streak going so long? Do you think you had a high pain tolerance? Or, do you honestly think it might have been luck?
There’s a certain amount of luck, but there’s also—there’s a philosophy and I had a body that was very resilient. It didn’t bruise easily. It didn’t swell up. It didn’t bruise if I hit a ball off my foot, or my knee, or if I got hit in the elbow. Other guys would actually swell up to the point where they can’t play. I didn’t have that so much.
My philosophy for not getting hurt really was to play hard, because that insulates you from injury. Every time that I eased up in basketball, or eased up someplace else, or went half-speed, you put yourself in a position to be injured. That’s why I didn’t get injured. It’s recognition of when you’re out there on the field you need to be clear, you need to be playing hard, and you need to protect yourself by being ready. I never let my guard down.
Was there a point—like, 1,500 games—when you said Lou Gehrig’s record was in reach and that you were going to go for it?
It didn’t really happen to me until about game number 2,000. To me I always looked at—and I never really projected whether I could break his record or not. It really wasn’t my goal. Really quickly it got to 1,000 games because the manager kept writing my name in the lineup. Between about 1,300 to 1,800 games it was seen as kind of a negative because we went through a lot of changes in our team. It wasn’t a popular thing. And then around 1,800 games it switched to all positive again.
To me personally the streak is really a streak of playing 162 [games]. Each year you have three months off. And so once it got within one year I thought it was conceivable. I didn’t want to really tether myself to that date [Sept. 6, 1995]. The reason that I was able to do it is because you take it one day at a time.
Speaking of some of those “not as good” Baltimore Orioles teams, what was it like to play for a team that started off 0-21 [like the 1988 Baltimore Orioles]?
[Laughs.] It’s the worst thing you could imagine, being on a sports team that is in national news for all the wrong reasons which was: losing. Every time the streak comes up, and I think it was just again, any time a team loses that many games in a row there’s a comparison to us in the history books.
I’ll tell you what, from a life perspective, I’m glad that I went through it because it makes you dig down deep inside and find out what you’re made of. I became a better teammate. I was able to support players and get better support in exchange. It was like it was us against the rest of the world. And the good news is that same group of guys in ’89, we turned it around, and we went to the last weekend of the season, with Toronto, playing for the pennant. As tough as it was—I wouldn’t wish that on anybody else -- but there was a lot to be learned from it. And to me I have a measure that says nothing could be as bad as that.
Switching over to this current season, have you decided who you think the pennant winners will be yet?
I’m considered an analyst for TBS but I believe nobody’s far enough to figure out who’s the best team in the league and who’s going to win the World Series, or even who’s going to win the division. I think the best you can do is look at a team and say “Are they a legitimate playoff-caliber team?” And then watch the season unfold.
I’m asked about the Orioles all the time and the last couple of years they’ve had playoff-caliber teams. Looking at Spring Training, I think they are a playoff-caliber team. I think every team in the American League East is a playoff-caliber team, too.
You got to think that the Red Sox are one of the favorites with their team. The Yankees have improved themselves. The Dodgers had success last year. St. Louis [Cardinals] had success last year. Those teams project as playoff-caliber teams; but the season is a long season and injuries, or how a particular year is going for an individual player, can affect the outcome. I guess I’m a realist in that sense, but a lot of the teams you have a good inkling—you probably could guess quite a few of the playoff teams.
As a member of the Hall of Fame, what is your view on whether or not PED users should be allowed in?
I think the tough part about this, and I’m not dodging the answer, but when someone makes a judgment about a player and whether or not they should be in the Hall of Fame, they’re looking at a lot of factors. It’s a difficult job and I’m not one of them so I don’t have to worry about that.
If you consider all the facts, and the hard part about it is, what are all the facts? I think some of the writers, some of the voters, are actually looking at it and they don’t cast their vote positively because they don’t have enough information. I think that’s what you’re seeing and hearing. That makes it very, very difficult and I was judged, somebody sat in judgment of me, and they’re going to continue and sit in judgment of the players that are eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Tough, tough job and I guess to understand whether they qualify or not, seems like they need to know the whole story.
What do you think about something like what happened in the other night in Milwaukee where the fans gave Ryan Braun a standing ovation?
I think we’re a very forgiving country. I think in Milwaukee it was almost predictable for them to embrace him and say “Welcome back and here’s a fresh start.”
I think he’s going to run into a different environment when he goes to play on the road. We’ll have to see how hard that is. But by and large I think we do live in a forgiving country and second chances are readily given.
When you talked to us last summer you seemed to express interest, possibly, in being a big league manager someday. Does that still interest you at all?
[Laughs.] I have to be very careful because speculation can run wild. I’m very happy doing what I’m doing now. We’ve thrown a couple of business lines with these [youth baseball] complexes and we’re looking to build them around the rest of the country.
But there is a side of me, and I’m 53-years-old, there’s a little bit of urgency that I’m starting to feel inside that if I wanted to come back to the big leagues in some capacity I’d have to start thinking about it. I don’t have a business strategy for it. I don’t know what that would mean. But honestly I have those thoughts and I think about it from time to time.
That’s about it. I don’t have anything to report. I’m not politicking. I’m not campaigning. I’m not asking someone for a job but those are the feelings that I have. I learned the big league game really well and sometimes you want to apply what you’ve learned back to that level.
You own a couple of minor league teams right?
Yep. I sold the Augusta Green Jackets but we still have the Aberdeen IronBirds and the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs.
A few years back [we] believe you expressed interest in buying the Baltimore Orioles. Would you rather work in the front office, be a manager or remain an analyst?
I think you could be happy in any of those three jobs. I’m flattered to be thought of. You didn’t throw in the Commissioner of Baseball either. Some people have thrown that around as well. Again, I stay grounded and I’m a realist. I really enjoy what I’m doing right now. And maybe waiting for a longtime out of baseball, has limited the opportunities to come back. Right now, I’m having a good time with baseball at the kids level. I’m enjoying that.
One last question: Are there any players today that remind you of you?
I don’t think that way in a sense. There’s players that I like to watch. But we’re all different. The young group of guys coming in: Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Manny Machado to name a few. I really like to see their development and watch those young guys have a tremendous impact on their teams early on. It’s fun for me to watch those guys.