Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cal Ripken Jr. and The 1987 Baltimore Orioles in Polaroids-Part 1

Cal Ripken Jr. Fuji Photo Night 1987
These Polaroids were taken on Fuji Photo Night at Memorial Stadium during the latter part of the 1987 season.  Despite being only four years removed from their 1983 World Series championship, by 1987, the proud Baltimore Orioles franchise had fallen on some very hard times.  Baltimore's '83 championship season was followed by a subpar 5th place finish in 1984 and a slow start in 1985 which cost World Series winning manager Joe Altobelli his job.  In his place, Baltimore brought Earl Weaver, the franchise's winningest manager, back from retirement. Initially, the move appeared to work with Weaver keeping the '86 Orioles on pace with the division leading Red Sox, sitting only two and a half games behind, in second place, with a 59-47 record on August 5.  However, from that point forward, the team collapsed--going 14-42--and finished last for the first time since the franchise had moved to Baltimore, which sent Weaver back into retirement--this time for good.  In Weaver's place the franchise promoted long-time 3rd base coach, Cal Ripken Sr. to manage the struggling ball club.   

Unfortunately, the '87 O's averaged only 22.3 wins per Ripken
Probably the most memorable thing about the 1987 Orioles is that it marked the first, and thus far only, time in major league history a father, Cal Ripken Sr., managed two sons, Cal Jr. and Billy, on one team.  Unfortunately, not even a trio of Ripkens could save the declining franchise from another horrid season as the O's record fell to 67-95.  They were only saved from another season in the cellar by the Cleveland Indians and their ridiculously bad pitching staff.  The following season proved to be even worse for Baltimore, with the team losing their first six games to start the season, leading to the dismissal of Ripken Sr.  Cal Sr.'s replacement, Frank Robinson, failed to reverse the losing trend and the club lost fifteen more games in a row, setting a major league record with 21 straight losses to open the season.  Not surprisingly, the Orioles finished last with an abysmal 54-107 record.

Cal Ripken Jr.

Cal Ripken Jr.
You would be hard pressed to find a player who meant more to a franchise than Cal Ripken Jr.  For twenty plus years, Ripken patrolled one half of the left side of Baltimore's infield.  During that time Ripken saw the franchise through its final days at Memorial Stadium and into its move to beautiful Camden Yards.  Cal played for several managers including Weaver, Altobelli, Cal Sr., Robinson, Johnny Oates, and Davey Johnson.  He won two MVP trophies, one during Baltimore's 1983 championship season and the other in 1991 as one of the few bright spots on a team that lost 95 games.  Ripken also played under three different ownership regimes: the controversial but successful Edward Bennett Williams, the short, tumultuous reign of Eli Jacobs, and the initially successful, but otherwise frustrating tenure of the enigmatic Peter Angelos. Through all this Ripken played day in, day out, through injuries, through both good times and bad.  In all Ripken would play 3,001 games in an Orioles uniform--with 2,632 coming consecutively.

By the 1987 season, Earl Weaver and Jim Palmer had retired and Eddie Murray was falling out of favor with both the front office and the fans, so Ripken was beginning to evolve from the hometown fan favorite to the face of the franchise.  At this time Ripken was in the middle of a ten year stretch, from 1982 to 1991, during which he hit 21 or more home runs each season but 1987 was definitely an off-year for Ripken. While Cal's 27 home runs and 98 RBIs may have looked good on the back of his baseball card, even a casual fan would notice his drop in batting average to a career low of .252, a particularly poor total when you consider 1987 was an extreme "hitter's year."

Since Ripken's 2001 retirement, the Baltimore franchise has lacked direction and lost a large portion of its fan base.  Even with a losing record, the Orioles were able to draw more than 3 million fans per year to Camden Yards during the last few years of Ripken's career and ranked in the top four of AL teams in attendance.  However, since his retirement, Baltimore has lacked drawing power and now places in the bottom half of AL teams in attendance, barely drawing half of the attendance they did during Ripken's final years.  Many factors have contributed to this attendance drop:  14 straight losing seasons, the inability to contend in the AL East against rich, perennial playoff contenders New York and Boston, a front office which flip flops between youth movements and the signing of free agents, several Oriole players including Rafael Palmeiro, Miguel Tejeda, and Brian Roberts being linked to performance enhancing drugs, having to share the DC/Baltimore area with the Washington Nationals, as well as owner Peter Angelos' seeming indifference to Baltimore's loyal fan base.
Billy Ripken
      
Billy Ripken

In July of '87, second baseman Billy Ripken joined brother Cal to form one of the league's most impressive keystone combinations.  Ripken burst onto the scene with a .307 batting average and .363 on base percentage but fell back to Earth the following season with both his average and OBP dropping by more than one-hundred points.  Ripken rebounded a bit in 1989 but probably had his best overall season in 1990 when he hit .291.  After being released by the Orioles following the 1992 season, Ripken struggled to stay in the majors and spent time with Texas and Cleveland before returning to the club in 1996. Known as a "good-field, no-hit" player, Ripken mostly played second base during his career but also saw time at short, third, and first.     

Fred Lynn

After Joe Altobelli and the Orioles followed up their 1983 World Series triumph with a disappointing 5th place finish in 1984, the Baltimore front office wasted little time making moves that they felt would upgrade the on the field performance and spur the club back to another AL East title.  Within the space of a week in December, the franchise signed relief pitcher Don Aase and outfielders Lee Lacy and Fred Lynn to free agent contracts.  The biggest move of the three was the signing of Lynn, a former Rookie of the Year and MVP winner, to a 5-year 6.8 million dollar contract.
Fred Lynn

If Lynn had any "buyer beware" tag on him it was his reputation for getting injured and not doing everything he could to stay in the line up.  Unfortunately for the Orioles, Lynn lived up to his "oft-injured" reputation and missed ample time in each of his first three seasons with the team, only playing between 111 to 124 games during those years.  In 1987, Lynn hit 23 home runs--the exact same number he hit in each of his first two seasons with Baltimore and his final year with the California Angels.  The following season, Lynn once again missed several games with injury and not surprisingly was traded from the slumping Orioles in late August to the Tigers for three minor leaguers, one of which was catcher Chris Hoiles.  The trade worked out well for Baltimore as Hoiles would become the team's starting catcher for most of the '90's and hit 151 home runs in 10 seasons with the club.

Lynn started his career in Boston sharing the outfield with Jim Rice and Dwight Evans and won both the Rookie of the Year and MVP in his first full year.  He also won four Gold Gloves in centerfield and made the All-Star team each year from 1975 to 1983. When his 17-year career ended after the 1990 season, Lynn had 306 home runs in just under 2,000 games played--totals that could have been much higher if not for all the missed games.  Injuries had really taken their toll on what could have been a Hall of Fame career for Lynn who only managed to play more than 140 games in a season four times.

Alan Wiggins

Sadly, Wiggins' career was over within weeks of this picture being taken
Prior to the 1985 season, Baltimore's front office took a big chance when it devoted a large chunk of its payroll to signing the talented, but oft-injured Fred Lynn to a multi-million dollar contract.  Then, on June 27--with the club languishing in 5th place, just barely playing .500 ball--the front office took an even bigger chance when it traded for the Padres' troubled leadoff hitter Alan Wiggins.  At his best, Wiggins was among the top leadoff hitters of his time, scoring 106 runs and stealing 70 bases the previous season for the pennant winning Padres.  However, at his worst, the speedster could be undependable both on and off the field, as well as a disruptive presence in the clubhouse.

At the time of the trade, Wiggins had been on the sidelines since late April when the San Diego front office had refused to let him rejoin the team after the speedster went AWOL during a road game series in Los Angeles and entered a drug rehabilitation center for the second time in three years due to cocaine addiction. The Padres had stood by Wiggins after a 1982 arrest for cocaine possession and even signed him to 4-year extension after his excellent 1984 season but they decided they had seen enough once Wiggins' troubles returned. Not only did Baltimore send two minor leaguers to San Diego but they also took on most of Wiggins' 2.5 million dollar contract which ran through 1988.    

In Wiggins, the Orioles saw a long term replacement for both Rich Dauer at second base and Al Bumbry at leadoff.  Wiggins was quickly able to shake off the rust and batted a respectable .285 after the trade. Unfortunately, Wiggins struggled the following year, seeing a dip in batting average to .251, managing only four extra base hits in 270 plate appearances, and was even at one point demoted to Rochester, Baltimore's Triple-A affiliate.  The 1987 season proved even more tumultuous with Wiggins first losing his second base position to rookie Billy Ripken in July, worsened when he got into a heated argument with teammate Jim Dwyer and manager Cal Ripken Sr. in early August, and finally ended with another drug related suspension at the end of August.  Statistically, 1987 was Wiggins' worst season with the speedster hitting a career low .232 in what wound up being his final year in the majors.  Tragically, Wiggins died from AIDS in January 1991, just a few weeks shy of his 33rd birthday.

----by John Tuberty

Polaroids taken by Jack Tuberty

Ripken Baseball Family Card is from 1988 Donruss set

Sources Baseball Reference, Google News Archive
and, Los Angeles Times

1 comment:

  1. If anyone knows the exact date of the game for Fuji Photo Night feel free to add a comment to this blog. Since both Billy Ripken and Alan Wiggins are pictured the game most likely took place between July 11 (Ripken's first major league game) and August 28 (Wiggins' last major league game). The other player in Fred Lynn's picture is most likely Jim Dwyer who hit 15 home runs in just 281 plate appearances in 1987.

    ReplyDelete