When asked how he would like to be remembered, Cal Ripken’s answer was, “To be remembered at all is pretty special. I might also add, that if I am remembered, I hope it’s because by living my dream I was able to make a difference.”
Cal Ripken was one of baseball’s all-time greatest shortstops. He was the tallest full-time shortstop at 6-feet-4-inches, he hit more home runs (402) than any other shortstop ever, and owns the highest single-season fielding percentage for a shortstop (.996).
Ripken started 17 consecutive All-Star Games. He is one of only two American League players to hit 400 home runs and 3,000 hits; the other is Carl Yastrzemski. Yet for all his accomplishments, his greatest accomplishment overshadows all the others. Ripken broke what was considered an unbreakable record of Lou Gehrig’s 2,130 consecutive games streak and extended it to 2,632 games.
To say Ripken brought stability to the Orioles’ infield might be the biggest understatement in sports. He was a Baltimore Oriole his whole career and retired as the all-time hits leader, home run leader, games played leader, RBI leader and total base leader.
Before and after Ripken broke Gehrig’s record, he was criticized for the streak. There was always the debate about whether he might have been a better player if he would have taken a day off here and there. Still, many of his accomplishments during the streak are undeniable. He hit 20 homers or more 14 times, he had 90 or more RBIs eight times, and in 1990, in the middle of the streak, he committed only three errors all year. Regardless, the streak itself has put Ripken on a whole new level for collectors.
Ripken will always be remembered for the streak but he once said, “I’d like to be remembered. I’d like to think that someday two guys will be talking in a bar and one of them will say something like, ‘Yeah, he’s a good shortstop, but he’s not as good as ol’ Ripken was.”
In recent years Ripken Jr.’s signature has been reduced to only a few visible letters. It is a far cry from the full-name script he wrote during his early years in the big leagues.
As a rookie, Ripken would sign nearly every letter in his name. The “C” in “Cal” would come to a point at the top and drag straight across to the right after finishing the down stroke. He would craft the “R” in “Ripken” so that the top part would look similar to an oval open at the bottom. Also, the “k” in “Ripken” had an elongated loop rising upward, hiding the stems of the “k.” The “J” that represents “Jr.” in his signature would start by curling out and drawing upward to a point followed by the down stroke to finish. The tail of the “J” at this point was closed with no visible loop (See Example 1).
After his first season in the big leagues his signature started to evolve. In the 1983 example of his signature shown, you can see the “C” in “Cal” started to become more rounded and has not changed significantly to date. The “Ripken Jr.” would be the part of his signature that would undergo the most changes.
Also, the “R” in “Ripken” started to have a more rounded shape and sit up more straight. The rest of his name would still be spelled out, but the “k” would start to show a smaller loop on the upstroke and the stems became more visible. His last name would trail upward and not straight across. Finally, the “J” for “Jr.” started to look like a closed four with sharp points. (See Example 2) Still the tail of the “J” did not have an open loop.
Over the next two seasons, Ripken settled into a consistent signature. By 1985, he had dropped some of the letters from his name (See Example 3, 4 and 5). Also the “k” in “Ripken” lost its loop on the up stroke and started to loop the upper stem. The “p” and “e” of his last name started to disappear.
Ripken’s autograph would not change again until around 1995. Even before he would eventually break the consecutive-games-played streak, Ripken’s popularity had surged. The media build-up and the looming sign displaying his games played hanging in right field only increased his appeal to the American people. And for one special night he was bigger than the game as he took a memorable lap around the field to the delight of adoring fans. Overnight he became an American hero.
Due to his overwhelming popularity and his nearly equal willingness to sign autographs for fans, Ripken again streamlined his signature. At this point, his signature didn’t change shape like most players that try to make it quicker for them to sign. Instead of signing a sloppy signature to accommodate all his fans, he would only drop a few letters in his last name while drawing his name. His autograph lost a few letters, but would maintain a very classy look. The entire first name remained intact as “Cal” is fully scribed with an oversized “C,” while the last name is represented with an oversized “R” and small “i.” His signature is almost symmetrically balanced, ending with an oversized “J” for suffix of his name (See Examples 6 and 7).
His signature has not changed to date, leaving the simple yet dramatic bold script that is his autograph. Ripken has always been a very gracious signer for fans and his signature is relatively affordable, given the accolades he has received throughout his career. Like most players who have been retired for a while, his autographs has decreased in value. Baseballs have been selling for about $75-$100 and 8-by-10 photos routinely sell for $50.
I am convinced that the price and popularity of Ripken’s autograph will only increase because of his election into the Hall of Fame, despite the fact that his arrival in Cooperstown has been a done deal for a very long time.