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The Big Twenty: Cal Ripken's retirement and Hall of Fame induction

The Big Twenty: Cal Ripken's retirement and Hall of Fame induction

For the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington will be rolling out the 20 biggest stories in DMV sports in the past 20 years. Here is No. 12.

When Cal Ripken Jr. stepped into the batter’s box for the final at-bat of his career, the moment didn’t appear very special on paper.

It was Oct. 6, 2001. The Orioles were on their way to a 5-1 loss at the hands of the Boston Red Sox as they closed out the season with a 63-98 record—their worst in almost 50 years. Ripken himself went 0-3, ending the night on a flyout to center field.
But the game held more weight than the box score ever could’ve described.

It was the culmination of a Hall-of-Fame career, the last time fans would see baseball’s Iron Man in cleats and an Orioles cap. It was Ripken telling the Baltimore faithful that it’d been a “dream” to spend his career playing for his hometown team. It was the beloved infielder riding around the field in a red Lamborghini waving to fans who refused to leave Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Of course, Ripken’s last season wasn’t without a bit of flair. He announced he would be retiring at season’s end in June. Named to the American League All-Star Team for his career achievements, many questioned Ripken’s presence amid a season in which he hit just .239. But Ripken homered in his first at-bat and was named All-Star Game MVP, becoming the first AL player to win the award twice.

Six years later, Ripken’s legacy was cemented forever as the Baseball Writers' Association of America announced that he would be enshrined as a member of the Hall of Fame. In his first year on the ballot, Ripken garnered 98.53 percent of the vote. It was the third-closest a player had gotten to a unanimous vote, trailing only Tom Seaver (98.84 in 1992) and Nolan Ryan (98.79 in 1999).

It was hardly a surprise, but a fitting tribute from the Camden yards faithful for the man who set the all-time record for consecutive games played with 2,632 straight contests. Ripken’s career put him atop the Orioles record book for most all-time hits (3,184), home runs (431) and basically every other counting stat the sport has.

So if the box score of his final game didn’t look all that special, nobody appeared in more of them as often as Ripken or with the relentlessly consistent results. It was the end of an era.  
 

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Baltimore native and Detroit Tigers legend Al Kaline dies at 85

Baltimore native and Detroit Tigers legend Al Kaline dies at 85

Baltimore native and Detroit Tigers legend Al Kaline died on Monday, a friend of Kaline's confirmed to the Associated Press. He was 85.

Kaline was born in Baltimore and grew up in Charm City, where he attended Southern High School. After moving from pitcher to outfield, Kaline earned All-State honors all four years.

After a standout high school career, Kaline was signed by the Detroit Tigers.  Just months after his high school career concluded, Kaline made his Major League debut in June of 1953 at age 18.

Kaline spent all 22 years of his Major League Baseball career with Detroit. At age 20, he won the American League batting title in 1955. Kaline was named an All-Star 18 times in his career and was a member of the World Series champion Tigers team in 1968.

The outfielder was one of four players in the sport's history to have 10 or more Gold Glove Awards and over 3,000 hits, joining Willie Mays, Ichiro Suzuki, and Roberto Clemente.

Kaline joins Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken as Hall of Famers with a strong connection to the city of Baltimore.

After retiring in 1976, Kaline served on the Tigers broadcast team until 2002. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980.

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Best Orioles of the Century: A tale of two decades behind the plate

Best Orioles of the Century: A tale of two decades behind the plate

With fans stuck inside and no live sports for entertainment, it's time to look to the past. Over the next few weeks, NBC Sports Washington is putting together a Best of the Century team for the Baltimore Orioles. Through the past two decades, there has been a surprising amount of star power to come through Charm City, and now we can determine who has truly been the cream of the crop.

It makes sense to start at catcher, considering the most likely face of the 2020 Orioles, Adley Rutschman, will be behind the plate in Baltimore sooner rather than later.

It's been a tale of two decades at the position for the O's. The 2000s saw names like Charles Johnson, Brook Fordyce and Geronimo Gil, while the 2010s brought stability in the form of a top-five overall draft pick who quickly became the most anticipated prospect in team history.

Here are the top contenders at catcher, in chronological order.

The Contenders

Javy Lopez (2004-06)

Lopez came to Baltimore in the exciting 2003 offseason. The Orioles added him along with veteran stars Miguel Tejada and Rafael Palmeiro. Lopez had just crushed a career-high 43 home runs in Atlanta the year before, finishing fourth in the National League in bombs and fifth in MVP voting.

It was hoped that Lopez would bring more success to the position than the Orioles had seen since Chris Hoiles, and while his debut season was a success - Lopez hit a home run on the first pitch he saw in Baltimore, an exciting first impression - he never replicated his success in Atlanta and was out of baseball after 2006.

Ramon Hernandez (2006-08)

Hernandez never made an All-Star team in Baltimore or brought much flash behind the plate, but he was a reliable contributor for three seasons. Considering the dearth of talent at the position in other parts of the decade, that small degree of stability is enough to warrant consideration here.

His best season was 2006, when he hit a career-high 23 home runs with a .275 batting average in his debut season in Baltimore. His OPS fell by more than 100 points the following two years, and in 2009 he moved on to Cincinnati.

The writing was on the wall for Hernandez when it became clear who the catcher of the future was.

Matt Wieters (2009-16)

Chuck Norris wears Matt Wieters pajamas. Sliced bread is actually the greatest thing since Matt Wieters. When Matt Wieters is hungry, he snacks on batting doughnuts.

These are just a few examples from the now-defunct Matt Wieters Facts website, dedicated to the greatness of the most highly-rated prospect in Orioles history. The hype surrounding Wieters was neverending from the moment he signed the then-highest bonus in Orioles draft history in 2007.

Wieters was billed as a catcher who could do it all. He was supposed to hit for average and power, frame pitchers better than anybody and had a cannon for an arm. He was Adley Rutschman before Adley Rutschman, and his talents shined in Baltimore for eight largely enjoyable seasons.

While the bat never fully came around - he hit .250 over eight years with Baltimore and never more than 23 home runs in a season - his fielding was superb and his leadership highly valued. He was at the center of several successful playoff teams, quickly becoming one of the most recognizable Orioles of the decade.

The Winner

Starting off with a no-brainer, the Best Oriole of the Century at catcher is Matt Wieters. It was never going to be anyone else.

Longevity alone give Wieters a huge leg up on the competition here. He played 882 games in Baltimore, more than Lopez and Hernandez combined (712). Wieters is also most closely associated with the Orioles while Lopez (Atlanta) and Hernandez (Oakland) are more closely thought of in other uniforms.

Wieters' best season by WAR (5.2 in 2011) also tops Lopez's (4.8 in 2004) and Hernandez's (4.2 in 2006). Team success also weighs heavily in Wieters' favor - no other catcher was atop the team's depth chart during any of the Orioles' winning seasons this century.

It's impossible to overstate just how much hype surrounded Wieters' arrival in 2009. When he was drafted out of Georgia Tech in 2007, he had as much pedigree as any player to ever enter the organization. Impossible expectations may lead some casual fans to consider his tenure a disappointment - he never became [Minnesota Twins catcher Joe] Mauer with power - but Wieters made four All-Star Games and won two Gold Gloves, while solidifying a position that desperately needed it.

He was one of the faces of the 2012-16 Orioles that led the American League in wins, and he is the easy choice as catcher of the century in Baltimore. 

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