No Rip on Cal Ripken Jr. But Kent Hrbek Deserved 1982 AL ROY Honors

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No Rip on Cal Ripken Jr. But Kent Hrbek Deserved 1982 AL ROY Honors
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Gandhi took home the 1982 Oscar for Best Picture.

Either E.T. or Tootsie would have made for a better choice.

A few months later, judges in another area of human endeavor also would make a questionable selection.

Baseball writers selected Cal Ripken Jr. over Kent Hrbek for the 1982 American League Rookie of the Year.

In hindsight, the Oscar voters got it wrong.

Gandhi has soured with age. Time has revealed its faults, despite an astonishing performance by Ben Kingsley in the title role. It's merely competent film making, but dry-as-a-bone. E.T. and Tootsie have both retained their inventiveness and charm, and they are deserving of classic status.

In hindsight, it can be argued that the baseball writers' choice was vindicated by history as Ripken improved with age, if that's possible.

Ripken Jr. went on to a bona fide Hall of Fame career. He was enshrined in 2007, garnering 537 of 545 votes, the highest total ever for a a position player.

His awards include:

American League MVP (1983 and 1991)

American League Silver Slugger Award (1983-86, 1989, 1991, 1993 and 1994)

MLB All-Star Game MVP (1991 and 2001)

Gold Glove Award (1991-92)

Ripken Jr. finished his career with a batting average of .276 with 431 home runs and 1,695 RBI. He also is a member of the 3,000 hit club with 3,184 lifetime safeties.

This doesn't take into account "The Streak," which might have punched his ticket to Cooperstown in and of itself  if Ripken Jr. had been only a cut above the average player and not the immensely gifted player that he turned out to be.  

Ripken Jr. appeared in 2,632 games, far eclipsing the former mark set by New York Yankee Lou Gehrig decades earlier of 2,130.

Meanwhile, Hrbek fashioned an above-average career with the Minnesota Twins, belting 20 or more homers in a season 10 times and driving in 90 or more runs five times. He finished his career with a .282 batting average with 293 home runs and 1,086 RBI.

However, the ROY award wasn't intended as a predictor of future success. Like the Oscar voters, baseball writers were charged with comparing the eligible entrants' performances in a single season.

Unlike the Oscar panel, the baseball writers had plenty of raw data at their fingertips, rather than subjective judgment, to help them in the process. The most cursory glance at the numbers showed that Hrbek had the better season.

In 1982, Ripken Jr. hit .264 in 1982 with 28 home runs and 93 RBI in 598 bats. Hrbek hit .301 with 23 home runs and 92 RBI in just 532 at-bats. Hrbek also was more adept at getting on base than Ripken Jr.  (.363 vs. .317 OBP), outslugged the future Hall of Famer (.485 vs. 475), and amassed a higher adjusted OPS (128 vs. 115).

Ripken Jr. did hold an edge in runs scored (90 vs. 82), but Hrbek would have undoubtedly matched or exceeded the former's  output if he had reached the plate more often.

The most telling statistic is that Hrbek posted excellent numbers in a lineup that offered him less offensive support than what Ripken Jr. had at his disposal. The 1982 Orioles batted .266 (sixth in the American League) and scored a fifth-best 774 runs.

The 1982 Minnesota Twins batted .257 (10th) and scored 657 runs (11th)

How did the baseball writers get it wrong?

One possible explanation is that, like Oscar voters, baseball writers allowed outside factors to interfere with their decision-making.

Huge, sprawling epics impress Oscar voters much in the same way that winning teams impress baseball voters. The fact that the Orioles won 94 games in 1982 was due, in part, to Ripken Jr.'s excellent rookie season.

However, one must also factor in Eddie Murray's juggernaut season at the plate (.316, 32, 110, second in the MVP voting) and the return to form of pitcher Jim Palmer (15-5, 3.13, second in Cy Young award voting).

Despite Hrbek's numbers, Minnesota floundered to its worst record in franchise history at 60-102. In addition to the Twins' poor offensive showing, the Twins' pitching staff recorded the worst ERA in the American League.

Before he had even taken his first swing in a Major League ballgame, Ripken Jr. and Terry Francona of the Montreal Expos were profiled in Sports Illustrated magazine ("Let's Play Ball, Dad") as sons of former Major League ballplayers.

They were both extolled as nice, down-to-earth, hard-working kids who were each trying to carve out a career for themselves on their own merits.

One of the anecdotes in the myth-making profile related that Orioles manager Earl Weaver, upon his first meeting with Ripken's wife, who was pregnant at the time with Cal Jr., had a feeling that the unborn child would grow up to be a Major League ballplayer.

Hrbek, by contrast, didn't even merit a mention in the article as being among the fine crop of 1982 rookies that included Dave LaPoint of the St. Louis Cardinals, Bob Stoddard of the Seattle Mariners and Luis Aponte of the Boston Red Sox.

(Hrbek would make the cover of the July 5, 1982, issue of Sports Illustrated. The headline? "Best of the Worst: Rookie Sensation Kent Hrbek of the Terrible Twins.")

Before the advent of ESPN and other around-the-clock sports media outlets, Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News were the purveyors of all things baseball to a nationwide audience.

The impact of such a laudatory article about a then-untested player couldn't have hindered Ripken's chances for the 1982 ROY award.

Also, the analytical tools being developed by Bill James and other baseball writers hadn't yet reached mainstream acceptance. So it's doubtful that the ROY selection committee, even if they were so predisposed, would have been aware of sabermetrics and other sophisticated analytical tools that are now common currency in baseball circles.

These are no rips against Ripken Jr. 

Hall of Famer?

Absolutely.

One of the best players of all-time?

Arguably.

One of the best ambassadors ever for baseball?

No question.

The riff is here that, for one season, Hrbek outperformed Ripken Jr., at least on the field.

Unquestionably.

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