One of baseball’s records that will never be broken is Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive games played streak.
He played 2,632 straight games in a span that lasted from 1982-1998. Sixteen seasons of play without taking a day off. This is the true definition of a durable baseball player.
Before the game started, there were four banners suspended from the former B&O Warehouse in the background of right field that read, “2130.” As the bottom of the fifth inning approached, indicating that the game was official, the last banner on the right changed from a “0” to “1.”
Now, the banners read, “2131,” and the record that seemed impossible to surpass had finally been broken. Ripken Jr. made his iconic lap around the field as confetti and balloons filled the air. This year marks 22 years since Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record.
Cal Ripken Jr. set a new record by playing in his 2,131 consecutive game, 22 years ago today.
Cal Ripken Jr. set a new record by playing in his 2,131 consecutive game, 22 years ago today. pic.twitter.com/gSo3ptqjqN
— Baseball In Pics (@baseballinpix) September 6, 2017
After this incredible milestone, he continued to play for three more seasons before voluntarily taking himself out of the lineup on Sept. 20, 1998.
Why Ripken Jr.’s Record Cannot Be Broken?
There are no true everyday ballplayers anymore. Only two players in the entire MLB played all 162 games this past season.
The term “everyday player” has a different meaning now than it did during Ripken Jr’s era. Then, when a player was given this role, he was expected to play all 162 games unless there was a serious injury that required time on the DL.
Now, this role has been redefined as a player that will play 140-155 out of the 162-game season. AL MVP Jose Altuve only played 149 games this past season. AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge only played 141 games.
These players were not on the DL the entire year. So why were they sitting out games if they were healthy?
The reason is simple: teams go through several stretches in a season where they will play 15-20 games straight before an off day. Therefore, managers strategically give their players personal rest days during the regular season; this mechanism prevents them to burn out and gives them energy to play their best baseball in the postseason.
In my mind, this thought process seems legitimate and reasonable. 162 games packed into six months is a very long and grueling process. The fact that Ripken Jr. did this for so many seasons with no rest is what makes his record so unbreakable.
Something else that contributes to this new definition of an everyday player is the emergence of baseball analytics.
In recent years, general managers have taken advantage of a whole new dimension of evaluating baseball teams, known as sabermetrics.
For example, a GM gets stat sheets that show how his right fielder cannot hit left handed pitching. Thus, he goes out and finds an outfielder that has similar fielding ability, but is significantly better at hitting lefties. The two outfielders now share the starting job, and neither of them should get sluggish as the season progresses.
During Ripken Jr’s era, GM’s and managers did not pay attention to those kinds of stats. Thanks to Billy Beane, sabermetrics are taken way more seriously in today’s game.
The only person that has come remotely close to breaking this record is Miguel Tejada, who played 1,152 consecutive games from 2000-2007 until his streak came to an end due to injury. Other than that, there hasn’t been any other player that has come close to 1,000 games.
Currently, the active leader for most consecutive games played is Alcides Escobar of the Kansas City Royals at 333 games.
In order for Escobar to break Ripken Jr’s record, he needs 2,299 more games. This translates to playing every game until the beginning of the 2032 season. Seeing that Escobar is currently 30 years old, the chances are pretty slim that he will be playing until he is 45.
But who knows? There could very well be someone who has a chance to break this record. However, based on how the game has changed, I do not see it happening. There will never be another Cal Ripken Jr.