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.