When Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s hallowed record for consecutive games played, it was the biggest milestone of an incredible streak that stretched through most of two decades.
On May 29, 1982, a 21-year-old Ripken had sat out the second game of the Orioles’ doubleheader against the Blue Jays, early in his first full MLB season. He was back in the lineup the next day and for all 2,632 of Baltimore’s games through Sept. 19, 1998, until staying on the bench for the team’s home finale that season.
Ripken obviously led the Majors in games played over the lifespan of the streak, not to mention plate appearances (11,453). But who were some other leaders? Let’s take a look at MLB’s best over the 16-plus seasons in which Ripken’s streak was alive.
Most wins: Yankees (1,414)
It speaks to how overpowering the Yankees were for much of this time that they sit atop this list despite Ripken’s streak also including the franchise’s only five losing seasons (1982, ‘89-’92) since ‘73. Ripken didn’t see a Yankees playoff team until his 14th full season in 1995, when the latest Bronx dynasty began.
Most postseason appearances: Braves (7^)
Most World Series appearances: Braves (4)
Joe Torre’s Braves made a surprising run to the National League West title in 1982 but then fell into another rut before their worst-to-first transformation in ‘91. That was just the start of one of the most successful runs in pro sports, with Atlanta winning 14 straight division titles (excluding the ‘94 strike year). The Braves won NL pennants in ‘91, ‘92, ‘95 and ‘96 (not to mention ‘99) but won the World Series only in ‘95 against Cleveland.
^Not including the 1998 postseason, which came after the streak ended.
Most championships: Blue Jays and Twins (2)
Shortly after Ripken finally sat down in September 1998, the Yankees won the first of three straight World Series titles. But the 15 Fall Classics played during the streak were won by 13 different franchises. That includes the Orioles, who beat the Phillies 4-1 in 1983 to win Ripken his only championship ring.
Games: Jesse Orosco (981)
The left-hander is MLB’s all-time leader with 1,252 games pitched, so it’s no shock to see his name here. Roughly 78% of those appearances came during the streak, with Orosco an Orioles teammate of Ripken’s for the final four seasons. While Ripken retired after 2001, Orosco hung on for two more seasons, pitching his last game well past his 46th birthday.
Complete games: Jack Morris (133)
The man famously known for his 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series was no stranger to finishing what he started. Morris reached double digits in complete games 11 times in his career, leading the AL in 1990. He also faced Ripken 120 times, trailing only Mike Moore (127).
Starts: Roger Clemens (447)
Innings: Clemens (3,258 2/3)
Wins: Clemens (232)
Strikeouts: Clemens (3,127)
Clemens was tied with Morris, facing Ripken 120 times in their careers, and held him to a .650 OPS. But Ripken obviously wasn’t the only hitter to struggle against the Rocket, who won five of his record seven Cy Young Awards during the 17 seasons the streak touched.
Saves: Lee Smith (475)
When the streak began, Smith had three career saves. When it ended, he had wrapped up his career with 478. At the time, that was a Major League record, one that would stand until Trevor Hoffman surpassed it in 2006.
Hits: Tony Gwynn (2,921)
Tony and Cal. Mr. Padre and Mr. Oriole. The two had so many parallels, from being rookies in 1982, to spending their whole careers with one franchise, to being overwhelming first-ballot Hall of Fame inductees in 2007. So it’s only right that Gwynn was the hit king of Ripken’s streak -- with 89 more than Cal himself. Gwynn led the NL in that category seven times during that stretch.
Home runs: Mark McGwire (451)
Big Mac didn’t debut until near the end of the 1986 season, leaving him with some ground to make up. He had no problem doing so, starting with a then-rookie record 49 big flies in ‘87 and reaching a crescendo with his record 70-homer campaign in ‘98 (64 of which came while the streak was alive). Barry Bonds (409) was the only other hitter to reach 400 during this time.
Walks: Rickey Henderson (1,616)
Runs: Henderson (1,718)
Stolen bases: Henderson (1,060)
It’s no surprise that the greatest leadoff man in baseball history would lead in multiple categories, while also posting a .405 OBP over nearly 10,000 plate appearances. Rickey is also the all-time record holder in runs (2,295) and steals (1,406) and trails only Bonds in walks (2,190).
Doubles: Wade Boggs (538)
Boggs, who came up with the Red Sox, edged Ripken (534) in two-baggers as their teams battled it out in the AL East. When Ripken won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 1982, Boggs placed third. He established himself as a doubles master the next year, taking advantage of Fenway to hit 44 -- the first of eight 40-double campaigns out of the next nine years. Boggs led the AL in both 1988 (45) and ‘89 (51).
RBIs: Ripken (1,494)
Total bases: Ripken (4,593)
And now we’re back to Cal. The 19-time All-Star obviously benefited from his unmatched playing time when it came to racking up counting stats, but he also capitalized on those opportunities with production. Ripken was a well above average hitter during the streak, with a 114 wRC+ to go with his .277/.345/.449 slash line. The streak was about showing up, every single day. But Ripken did a lot more than that.