March 26, 1999
Cal Ripken Sr.,
Veteran Baseball Coach, Dies at 63
Cal Ripken Sr., a gruff, single-minded baseball person and the only one to
manage two sons on the same major league team, died Thursday at Johns
Hopkins Oncology Center in Baltimore. He was 63.
Ripken, who lived in Aberdeen, Md., had been treated for lung cancer.
With the Baltimore Orioles in 1987, Ripken managed his sons Cal Jr., a
shortstop, and Billy, a second baseman. When the manager took Cal Jr. out of
the lineup late in a game that season, it ended the son's streak of 8,243
consecutive innings played over five and a half years, believed to be a
major league record. In 1995, Cal Jr. broke perhaps the most cherished
record in baseball, Lou Gehrig's streak of 2,130 consecutive games.
Cal Ripken Sr. was wiry, blunt, quick-tempered and given to salty language.
He chain-smoked filterless cigarettes and had a voice that, one observer
wrote, "sounded like the bucket of a backhoe scraping a boulder."
He spent 36 years in the Baltimore Orioles' organization -- as a minor
league catcher, a minor league manager, a major league coach, a scout and a
major league manager.
John Steadman, a sports columnist for The Sun in Baltimore, called Ripken
"the toughest of old Orioles" and added:"He was a throwback to another era who sacrificed personal opportunities to
labor in the vineyards and do more for the Orioles than they could ever do
for him. He brought discipline, a no-nonsense instructional ethic and a
working wisdom that prepared players for the demanding major league
examinations that awaited. He asked no plaudits; he derived satisfaction
from the results of his coaching and personal example."
After the Orioles finished last in the American League East under Earl
Weaver in 1986, they promoted Ripken, their third-base coach, to manager.
His 1987 team finished with a 67-95 record, and when it lost its first six
games in 1988, he was dismissed in favor of Frank Robinson. That team went
on to lose its first 21 games, a major league record for the start of a
Cal Jr. understood his father's strengths. "He's at his best when he's in charge," the son said. "Some men were made to
follow and some to lead. My dad's a leader."
Remembering an incident when he was 16, Cal Jr. viewed his father as an
inspiration for his consecutive-game streak, which he ended last season at
The father had been hit on the head with a crank that flew off a tractor
hooked up to a snowplow, but he resumed plowing rather than head for a
"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," Cal
Jr. once said. "'That pushes me."
While he was managing Cal Jr. and Billy, Cal Sr. said: "We just happen to be
in the same business at the same place. Maybe years from now, I'll smile
about all this. But for now they're just a second baseman and a shortstop on
this ball club."
The father returned to uniform in 1989 as the Orioles' third-base coach,
only to be dropped after the 1992 season. He was unhappy about losing his
jobs as manager and then coach, and during a training-camp visit in 1996,
when someone asked whether he wanted to come back, he replied acidly, "I
didn't have any desire to leave in the first place."
Calvin Edwin Ripken Sr. was born and raised in Aberdeen. In 1957, he signed
a minor league contract with the Orioles and started playing for $150 a
month for Phoenix in the Class C Arizona-Mexican League. He endured
bush-league hardships, playing in Cananea, Mexico, in a grassless bullring
in 120-degree temperatures.
After a shoulder injury ended his catching career, he managed Oriole teams
in outposts in Leesburg, Fla.; Appleton, Wis.; Aberdeen, S.D.;
Kennewick-Richland-Pasco, Wash.; Miami; Elmira, N.Y.; Rochester; Dallas and
Asheville, N.C. His players included Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, Mark Belanger
and Lou Piniella.
After Ripken left the Oriole organization for good, he played golf, threw
horseshoes in a tournament-caliber pit in his backyard and tended to his
tomato plants. For one week every summer, he ran the Cal Ripken Baseball
School in Emmitsburg, Md.
His survivors include his wife, Violet; three sons, Cal Jr. of Reisterstown,
Md.; Fred of Havre de Grace, Md., and Billy of Fallston, Md.; a daughter,
Ellen Heathcott of Bel Air, Md., and six grandchildren.
In his final years, Ripken said he missed
baseball. "But there are two things I always say you have to do in baseball," he said,
"and that's adjust and readjust. You have to do the same thing in life. You
have to accept things for what they are."