Every father has impossible dreams for his son—like watching that little boy of his grow up to play in the World Series. But Cal Ripken Sr.’s dream was even more outlandish: He wanted to be on the same team.
Last week that unlikely parental fantasy came true. As Baltimore beat Philadelphia 4-1 in the fall classic, there was Cal Sr., 47, coaching third base for the Orioles. Playing shortstop for the Birds was his son Cal Jr., 23, last season’s Rookie of the Year.
By his own admission, Cal Jr. experienced a “minislump” during the Series, but the Orioles never would have been there to begin with were it not for their brilliant young shortstop. His statistics—a .318 batting average, 27 homers, 102 RBIs and a major league leading 211 hits—make him a serious contender for the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. If there were an Iron Man award, young Ripken, the only player in either league to play every inning of every game, would surely win it.
And the kid’s no flash-in-the-pan phenom, according to his teammates. “He’ll be a household name before long,” predicts left fielder John Lowenstein. Agrees veteran pitcher Jim Palmer: “He’s the best athlete on the team. And I should know because that used to be me.” Cal Sr. was never the object of such lavish praise. Blessed with exceedingly modest talents, the 5’11” father spent 20 years as a player and coach in the Orioles’ minor league organization, joining the parent club in 1977. His 6’4″ son was drafted right out of Aberdeen (Md.) High School and four years later was in the majors.
Like Maryland’s Chesapeake crabs, the Ripkens come hard-and soft-shelled. Little Rip, as the Orioles refer to Cal Jr., is the sweet-natured sort, unfailingly polite even to umpires. “I really don’t think you should argue with them,” he says earnestly. Big Rip, on the other hand, with his crew cut, ice-blue eyes and drill sergeant bark, comes across as a gruff disciplinarian. He considers umpires a menace to civilized society. In fact Cal Sr. once fell asleep in a hotel lobby, and when a couple of cops tried to rouse him, Ripken—seeing only the umpire blue of their uniforms—flew into a rage. He had to be bailed out of jail the next morning.
“He can be a bit hotheaded,” concedes wife Vi, Cal Sr.’s high school sweetheart from Aberdeen, whom he married in 1957. And nothing makes Dad hotter than charges that nepotism was behind his son’s rapid rise to the majors. “I did not have any influence,” he bristles. Cal Jr., too, experienced frustration on this score. “I felt like taking a stat sheet to parties,” he recalls.
Nor was it an advantage to have a hard-traveling coach for a father. “I didn’t get to see too many of his games in Little League,” Cal Sr. recalls. “So Vi taught him to hit. She was a pretty good hitter herself, and I’m not talking about fanning the kids’ behinds.”
Nowadays, Cal Sr. lives with Vi and their three other children (one of whom, Billy, is a hot prospect in the Baltimore farm system) in the same white frame house in Aberdeen that they’ve shared for the past 17 years. Last year Cal Jr. bought a town house 25 miles away in Cockeysville. On the road Ripken pere and fils are seldom together, observing the age-old custom of players fraternizing with players, coaches with coaches. “Just because he’s my son doesn’t make him special,” insists Cal Sr. “He’s one of 25 players on this team, and I’m proud of all these guys. They’re all like sons to me.”
Come on, Big Rip, what’s the best thing about having your son on the Orioles? “Having a shortstop who hits .318,” snaps Dad. Cal Jr. is, characteristically, more demonstrative. “Ever since I was a kid my dream was to play in the Series,” he says. “But having my father here to share it with me makes it a little extra special.”