Friday, March 14, 2008

Cal Ripken Jr. is Overrated

As a baseball fan, this is not easy to say. Purists may disagree but it is time that the truth comes forward: Cal Ripken Jr. is overrated.

Die hard baseball fans, especially Oriole fans or Marlyanders', may want to have me hung in the town square for uttering those words. As a former resident of the state, trust me when I say that Jesus Christ is less of a hero in Maryland than Cal.

Before I precede any further, let me state that Cal Ripken is a first ballot Hall of Famer, a baseball icon, and a great ambassador to the game. He has won MVP awards, World Series rings, and set numerous records in a remarkable career that ultimately earned him a spot in Cooperstown last year.

With that said, you may be saying, "Well his career resume sounds good so why is he overrated?" A baseball player can be good, great, or legendary and still be overrated. Overrated is all a matter of perception. That's Cal's problem. Too many baseball fans, whether purists or casual fans, hold him in the same breath as Mays, Mantle, and Ruth. Let's be realistic. Cal was very good, but not one of the best ever to play. He wasn't even the best to play his position.

This idea is summed up in this example. There has never been a player to be on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time and get voted in unanimously. That changed when Cal received 98.53% percent of the votes in 2007. You mean to tell me it was clearer to put Cal Ripken Jr in the Hall of Fame then it was to put any other player ever?

Cal Ripken Jr. is often celebrated as the greatest shortstop all of time. That is incorrect as that title truly belongs to Honus Wagner. The Flying Dutchman's offensive stats blow away every shortstop in history, and he also was a superior defensive shortstop compared to Cal.

Wagner's offensive career stats look like this:
AVG: .329 G:2787 AB:10427 R:1740 H:3430 HR:101 RBI:Not official stat SB:722 SLG: .469

Ripken's offensive career stats look like this:
AVG: 276 G:3001 AB:11551 R:1647 HR:431 RBI:1695 SB:26 SLG: .447

While Wagner's home runs represent career totals usually reserved for backup second basemen, note that Wagner played his 9 years in Exposition Field in Pittsburgh. The field's dimensions were 400 left field, 450 center, 400 right field. He then played his final 8 seasons in Forbes Field were the dimensions were 360-l, 422-C, and 376-R.

Wagner's career highlights include hitting .344 in his rookie season of 1897 with Louisville, the first of 17 consecutive seasons of hitting over .300, including eight as the National League batting champion. Wagner compiled a lifetime average of .329, and also stole 722 bases, while leading the league in thefts on five occasions.

During Ripken's career he hit .300 only three times out of his 18 qualifying seasons, his OPS was only .787 (Bonds had seasons in which his slugging alone was higher, but he was an outfielder, so, oh no, they can’t be compared), he never had a season with 50 doubles, and let’s not forget that he is the all-time leader for hitting into double plays (350).

Like I said, Cal isn't the best shortstop to ever lace up the cleats. But you could argue that they played in different eras. You are correct. However, in his era Wagner dominated more than Ripken did in his era. Plus, Wagner was known for his enormous hands and wrists, and at 5-11, 200 pounds, he was really the first big shortstop, not Cal Ripken or Ernie Banks. Don't you think he would be hitting 40 home runs if he played today?

Don't get me wrong; Cal was a fantastic baseball player. He went to 19 straight All-Star games, 2 time All-Star game MVP, AL Rookie of the Year, 2 time gold glove winner, and 2 time AL MVP. But let's not forget that Wagner's career went from 1897-1917, long before the invention of all of these awards.

To show how overlooked Wagner is, has Wagner listed as the 18th best shortstop ever? Are you kidding me Mike DiMauro? That article is perhaps the worst sports list I've ever seen. Fan's that voted for MLB's all century team in 1999 left Honus Wagner completely off the team. He had to be added by the "panel of experts."

Cal Ripken can be listed as overrated for 3 more reasons. The Streak, great ambassador to the game, and revolutionizing the shortstop position.

Consecutive Games played streak (2,632):
This is perhaps the most ridiculous sports record. He is celebrated because he showed up to work for 2,632 times in a row? Maybe if he had a hit in 2,632 games in a row but just showing while getting paid millions to do so? While it's special, it's certainly shouldn't be one of the main reasons he is a Hall of Famer because it doesn't say anything about his skill as a baseball player. Still, fans voted the Streak as baseball's most memorable moment ever. I understand that some people think that the Streak helped saved baseball after the strike in 1994. Let's be honest, the steroid era and home run chase of 1998 did more for the game.

Cal was well liked:
Everyone knows the stories of Cal staying at the ballpark till the wee hours of the morning to sign ever last autograph. This made him one of the most beloved players in the game. Not to mention he played for his father, he was teammates with his brother, he gave to charity, and he helped children learn baseball in his spare time. Also, in the days of players playing for 5 teams in a career he played his entire career for the Orioles. These reasons made him beloved, but should beloved make you an all time legend?

Cal reinvented how shortstops looked and played:
At 6'4", Ripken is often credited with pioneering the way for larger and taller shortstops. Wagner was truly the first large shortstop. Ripken gets credit because of the media era he played in and because of the amounts of home runs he hit. Ernie Banks was 6"1, 180lbs a generation earlier and is arguably a better fielder than Ripken.

Being a shortstop should not be an excuse for the fact that his stats are overall very generic for the Hall of Fame. If you’re going to give him bonus credit for home runs, you have to take credit away for never stealing any bases, not walking very often, and having only three 100-run seasons.

Should Ripken be in the Hall of Fame? Yes. Is he the greatest shortstop ever? No. Has he been overrated all of these years? Absolutely.

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