Ripken in the Minors
RIPKEN GETS THE CALL
Number of Former Miracle Franchise Players in The Hall Reaches Four!
By Kurt Schweizer
In 2003, when former Miracle franchise player Eddie Murray and former West Palm Beach Expo Gary Carter were voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York, they became the 12th and 13th former Florida State League players to be so honored. This marked the first time that two former FSL players were voted in together. It was also a significant milestone for the Fort Myers Miracle franchise, as Murray became the third former Miracle player to get the nod from Cooperstown. No other FSL club can boast more than one such player.
Another Baltimore Orioles hero who played for the Miracle franchise (under the Miami Orioles name) was none other than Cal Ripken, Jr., who played most of the 1979 season with the club. The former Miami Oriole will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, this year, his first of eligibility, becoming the fourth former Miracle franchise player to get into The Hall. In 105 games with Miami, Ripken hit .303-5-54. This was a milestone for the young Ripken as it marked his first full season in professional baseball. Ripken also hit his first pro home run that year while wearing a Miami uniform, as he launched a two-out pitch over the left field wall in West Palm Beach to secure a 12th inning victory against the Expos on July 2, of that season. His performance that year (which also included 28 doubles) earned him a spot on that season’s Florida State League All-Star roster.
Upon reminiscing about his first professional home run, Ripken said the following, in his autobiography: “It was my first home run in the minor leagues…then something happened to the lights on the field and during the blackout, I sat on the bench wondering if the homer counted if we didn’t finish the game. Fortunately, they came back on; we won the game 1-0 and I had my homer.”
While with Miami, Ripken had a few teammates who went on to play for Baltimore, including pitcher Allan Ramirez and outfielder John Shelby. Ripken and Shelby became good friends while playing in Miami and then both made their Major League debuts with Baltimore in 1981. They were teammates in Baltimore for six more seasons, including the World Championship year, in 1983. There were several other eventual Baltimore players who played for the Miami Orioles, in the years just before and just after Ripken’s tenure in the Florida State League. Besides Murray, these players included Dennis Martinez, Mike Flanagan, Sammy Stewart, Storm Davis and Mike Young, just to name a few.After his Major League debut, Ripken was in Baltimore to stay. He had 3184 hits, 431 home runs and 1695 RBI in his Major League career. He has appeared in 18 Major League All–Star games (including two times as the game's MVP) and played in one World Series, which the Orioles won in five games versus Philadelphia, in 1983. Ripken is probably best known, however, for breaking Lou Gehrig's Major League record for most consecutive games played, in 1995.
For the first half of his career, Ripken returned to Miami Stadium every year for Spring Training. At least once or twice per year, for his first seven Major League Springs, Ripken rode on the Orioles’ bus across The Everglades from Miami to Ft. Myers to take on the Kansas City Royals at Terry Park. (This was a trip that he had also taken a few times with the Miami Orioles to play on the road against the old Ft. Myers Royals.) For the book entitled Baseball’s Early Season: Spring Training, the book’s authors (famed sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy and photographer Stan Grossfeld) asked Ripken to write the foreword. In it Ripken wrote, “I always thought Alligator Alley was a myth. It became a running joke. Someone would yell, ‘Gator on the right.’ And we’d whip our necks around, never to see a gator. But, once you did, you knew what to look for—a log floating on the water. Soon, you’re the one yelling, ‘Gator on the right,’ and you mean it. I know guys who never laid eyes on one—at least they didn’t know it. But, as sure as I’m Cal Ripken, Jr., there were gators on that drive.” Of course, as we all know, long-time residents of (or frequent visitors to) Southwest Florida can surely vouch for Ripken on that!
On January 9, 2007, Ripken was elected to The Hall, appearing on 537 out of 545 of the ballots cast (98.5%), which was eight votes short of a unanimous selection. His percentage is the third highest in history, behind only Tom Seaver (98.84 percent) and Nolan Ryan (98.79 percent) and is the highest ever for a position player. Tony Gwynn was chosen alongside Ripken. Both Hall of Fame-Elects will be formally inducted this July 29, in Cooperstown.
Besides Murray, Ripken will join Ferguson Jenkins and Jim Palmer as the other former Miracle players in The Hall. Jenkins, who pitched in the Major Leagues for the Phillies, Cubs, Rangers and Red Sox, was a member of the Miracle’s starting rotation in 1962 and ’63 when the club was known as the Miami Marlins and was affiliated with the Phillies. Palmer, the former Baltimore Orioles ace hurler, pitched for the Marlins in 1967 (under Manager Cal Ripken, Sr.), and in 1968. At that time, the club was an Orioles affiliate.
Since his retirement as a player, Ripken has stayed involved with Minor League Baseball, as an owner of the Aberdeen Ironbirds and the Augusta Greenjackets. He has also been greatly involved in youth baseball.
Cal Ripken, as much (or more) as any other player, certainly left his mark on baseball in general, on the Florida State League and on the history of the Miracle franchise, itself. Everyone with the Miracle is more than proud to have Cal’s name added to the ever-growing list of former Miracle players in The Hall of Fame.
Kurt Schweizer can be reached at [email protected]