As of 2008, Cal Ripken, Jr. is regarded as an idol in Baltimore and is considered to be arguably the greatest shortstop who ever lived. He is revered for his amazing streak of playing in 2,632 consecutive games. He was a role model for children everywhere, demonstrating the importance of just going out there every day and doing his job. Along the way, Ripken made 19 All-Star teams, won a "Rookie of the Year" award and two league MVP award, hit over 400 home runs and collected over 3,000 hits, won two Gold Gloves, eight Silver Slugger awards, and led the Orioles to the World Championship in 1983. And I have the nerve to call him overrated. I do!
It’s funny how the All-Star voting works. Once a guy has established himself as one of the premier players in the league at his position, he can hit .220 with six home runs at the break and still make the team. And that’s exactly how it worked for Ripken. Oh sure, he deserved probably eight or so of those All-Star appearances. But not 19.
Ripken came up to the Orioles in 1981 and won the "Rookie of the Year" award in 1982, his first full season, an award he undoubtedly deserved for his .264 average, 28 homers, and good defense at shortstop. By his second full season, Ripken hit .318 with 27 home runs and 102 RBI, and won the "American League MVP" award. He led the Orioles to the World Series championship, batting a solid .273 in the playoffs. But after that, his career pretty much went downhill. He had a couple of more good years, hitting .304 with 27 HR in 1984, .282 with 26 HR and 110 RBI in 1985, and .282 with 25 HR in 1986. But by the late 1980s, he became a .260 hitter with 21 homers who simply played every day.
Oh sure, he still had his moments. He won the MVP in 1991 and hit .340 in 1999, at the age of 39. But for the most part he was just a disappointment year-after-year who continued to play every single game.
He gained national recognition for the streak and for his incredible durability as to have done it while playing a very demanding defensive position. There’s no denying that it is one of baseball’s most impressive individual achievements, to be able to withstand any injuries for such an extended period of time. Looking at Ripken’s numbers though, maybe the O’s would have been better off sitting Ripken for stretches of time.
Ripken batted .276 for his career, as opposed to the league’s .264 mark, and reached base 34 percent of the time, only a small improvement from the league’s 33.2 percent. In other words, he reached base at about the same rate as the average ballplayer. In addition, he had no speed and holds the major league record for most times grounded into a double play (350).
And his numbers in themselves are deceiving. He hit over 400 home runs but only hit 30 once. He only batted .300 three times and never had an on-base percentage over .380. For his career, his OPS, a statistic that measures a player’s on-base percentage plus slugging percentage when adjusted to the league average and the ballpark, was just 12 percent better than the league average. In comparison, guys like Corey Koskie, Raul Mondesi, and Pat Burrell are ahead of Ripken on the all-time list.
If you take all the members of the 3000-hit club, Ripken has the lowest career batting average and on-base percentage. He and Eddie Murray are the only guys who hit 400 home runs without ever hitting 35 or more in a season, but Murray hit 30 or more in a season five times. Ripken did it once. Ripken collected 200 hits in a season just once. He scored 100 runs three times in his first four seasons, but then never again.
Simply put, Ripken wasn’t the hitter his numbers reflect. He padded his numbers by playing for years after he had stopped helping his team, but because he was such a charitable man who was such a positive role model for children, no one mentions it.
Ripken is often ranked in the top 40 baseball players of all-time, which would put him in the top seventh of all Hall of Famers. He finished first among shortstops in All-Century voting, even passing the greatest shortstop of all-time, Honus Wagner.
I’m not saying I don’t like Ripken. I do. It's popular to like Ripken and to put him on the all-time teams. He's a great guy and was a wonderful teammate. And I think he should be in the Hall of Fame. But that doesn’t mean I can’t say he’s still overrated.