It’s widely believed that the most important ability is availability. Cal Ripken Jr. cornered the market on that skill.
Ripken’s knack for being consistently ready to play enabled him to sustain his remarkable career long enough to break one of baseball’s most hallowed records: Lou Gehrig’s mark of 2,130 consecutive games.
Here’s a look at 10 of Ripken’s top moments -- or sustained performances -- during his 21 Major League seasons.
1. The Record
Sept. 6, 1995
What else would top this list? As he and the Baltimore Orioles hosted the California Angels, Ripken appeared in his 2,131st consecutive game, eclipsing the mark that Yankees legend Lou Gehrig established in 1939. The crowd of 46,272 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards showered Ripken with a 22-minute ovation after the game became official in the fifth inning. Ripken began the streak on May 30, 1982.
2. Finally, a break
Sept. 20, 1998
Ripken ultimately extended his record to 2,632 games in a row before he asked Orioles manager Ray Miller to rest him. “It was time,” Ripken said. That night at Camden Yards, after Chuck Knoblauch of the Yankees was retired for the first out, Ripken’s image appeared on the ballpark’s video screen, prompting a huge ovation and delaying the game until he acknowledged the crowd twice.
3. Becoming a star
Ripken helped guide the Orioles to a five-game triumph over Philadelphia in the World Series. His prodigious output during the regular season earned him the American League Most Valuable Player Award in a tight vote over teammate Eddie Murray. Ripken accumulated 322 vote points and 15 first-place votes; Murray had 299 and 10, respectively. Ripken batted .318 with 27 homers while collecting a club-record and league-high 211 hits. He also led the AL with 121 runs and 47 doubles. Ripken thus became the first player to win league Rookie of the Year and MVP Awards in back-to-back seasons.
4. All-Star Awesomeness
July 9, 1991; July 10, 2001
Ripken compiled an unassuming .265 batting average (13-for-49) in All-Star competition. He nevertheless made a difference against the National League by twice winning the game’s MVP Award. His three-run homer off Montreal’s Dennis Martinez made the difference in 1991 (AL 4, NL 2). Ripken stirred emotions in his final Midsummer Classic, mashing a third-inning homer off Dodgers righty Chan Ho Park to open the scoring in a 4-1 AL win.
5. MVP repeat
Ripken, who turned 30 on Aug. 24, became the first AL MVP Award winner to play for a sub-.500 club (the Orioles finished 67-95 that year). His already lofty status as a player reached stratospheric heights as he hit .323 with 34 home runs, 114 RBIs and a Major League-high 368 total bases.
6. When the going gets tough …
Ripken embraced the big moments. He hit .336 in 28 postseason games, including .385 (15-for-39) in the ALDS and ALCS in 1997.
7. Another great glove
Conditioned to witnessing peerless defense after watching Brooks Robinson excel at third base through the 1960s and ‘70s, Orioles fans appreciated Ripken’s defensive prowess. He sustained an errorless streak of 95 consecutive games and was charged with just three errors overall in '90. Nevertheless, he didn’t win the Gold Glove Award in balloting by the AL’s managers and coaches. That honor went to the White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen, who was charged with 17 errors. Ripken played shortstop almost exclusively until '97, when he moved to third base.
8. Rage against the dying of the light
Ripken batted a career-best .340 in his 19th season. Unfortunately for Ripken and the Orioles, injuries limited him to 86 games. One of those games featured a 6-for-6 performance in a 22-1 rout at Atlanta on June 13. Ripken hit 18 homers in just 332 at-bats, including his 400th career homer on Sept. 2 off Tampa Bay’s Rolando Arrojo.
9. A shoo-in
Ripken approached unanimous selection for the Hall of Fame, appearing on 537 of the 545 ballots cast (98.53 percent). Everybody’s favorite player helped draw an estimated 75,000 -- a record-high crowd -- to his induction ceremony at Cooperstown.
10. He’s the mold
Ripken established the prototype for the big, athletic shortstop. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, he didn’t display obvious speed or quickness yet still covered considerable ground. While mashing more than 20 homers in each of his first 10 full seasons, he forever erased the good-field/no-hit image linked to shortstops.