10 Jul 2001: American League players congratulate Cal Ripken Jr. (fourth from right) of the Baltimore Orioles as he leaves the field after being taken out of the 2001 Major League Baseball All-Star game at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Gruele/Allsport)
The Orioles have had a lot of big moments in the All-Star Game, as evidenced by their six All-Star MVPs, most for one team in history (They are: Brooks Robinson - '66, Frank Robinson, '71, Cal Ripken - '91, Roberto Alomar - '98, Ripken - '01, Miguel Tejada - '05). But none was bigger than the role Cal Ripken played in in the 2001 All-Star Game at Safeco Field in Seattle.
By 2001, Ripken was a shell of the great player we'd grown to love over his twenty-year career. He hadn't been an above-average hitter for five seasons (the exception being 1999 when he hit very well but was limited to just 86 games due to injury), and long gone were the days of him digging out a ground ball from the hole at shortstop and flinging it effortlessly to first.
Despite his sharp decline, Ripken was loved. We loved him the most, of course, but he was universally adored across baseball in a way few players have ever been. After announcing his retirement in June of that year, crowds attended his away games, fans who wanted to say they'd seen Ripken play one last time. I happened to visit my family in Chicago when the Orioles were playing the White Sox, and my brother and I bought tickets to see the Orioles at New Comisky Park even before the official retirement announcement was made. Cal had the day off the day we went, much to the disappointment of the White Sox fans sitting around us. At that point I'd seen Ripken play dozens of times in person, so it wasn't a big deal to me. I was disappointed, however, when I discovered that the following day would be Cal Ripken Day at the game. Cal Ripken Day. In Chicago, where Ripken's team would be trying to beat the team honoring him. I mean, honestly, how often does that happen? And it wasn't only the White Sox who took such measures as Ripken's farewell tour was celebrated all around the country with press conferences, tributes, and countless standing ovations.
Going into the All-Star Game, Ripken was hitting a putrid .240/.270/.324, but because the fans loved him, they voted him in. Such is the nature of the game. When the game began, the American League Alex Rodriguez, whose idolization of Ripken had been well documented, had other ideas (2001 was A-Rod's first year with the Rangers, when we'd only scratched the surface on his douchiness, so I actually liked him then). Rodriguez insisted that Ripken play shortstop for the first inning. In subsequent recordings you can hear Ripken saying to him, "I'm not playing shortstop!" and putting up a bit of a fight, but Rodriguez wasn't having any of it. And so, in a fitting tribute, Cal got to play shortstop one last time. He didn't make any plays (which was probably a relief for him).took their places on the field, Ripken at third base. But
Ripken led off the top of the third inning as Chan Ho Park replaced Randy Johnson as the NL pitcher. After a long standing ovation from the crowd, Ripken sent a fastball over the left field wall to give the AL a 1-0 lead. We all know that Park simply threw a fastball down the middle for Ripken, but that didn't make it any less exciting. Even the National League players didn't mind, as a few of them clapped as he rounded the bases.
Ripken had one more at bat in the fifth inning (a ground out) before he was replaced in the field by Troy Glaus. The AL manager, Joe Torre, didn't remove him until he'd taken the field in the top of the 6th, giving the crowd one last chance to cheer him and his All-Star teammates a chance to say goodbye. The AL went on to defeat the NL 4-1, and Ripken was the obvious choice for All-Star MVP. In a long career that featured more losing teams than he deserved and only three seasons in the playoffs, Ripken got one last chance to shine on a big stage, and he didn't let us down.