It seems like just a few years ago that he was circling Camden Yards after breaking Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played. Reality, though, is that he hasn’t played in a big league game since 2001. In honor of the Hall of Fame shortstop’s birthday, here’s a chronicle his career with a selection of Cal Ripken cards from each of his 21 big league seasons.
It’s not a “best” list, although you’ll see a couple of those. In fact, most are very affordable.
Click the title of each to see them for sale and auction.
Ripken broke into the majors in 1981, playing in a total of 23 games. He had no licensed MLB cards that season but before being called up, he played for the Orioles AAA affiliate in Rochester, NY. It’s the cheaper of two cards issued for him that season (click the link above to see both).
Sure, it’s not Ripken’s official rookie card since he was featured in the regular 1982 Topps set on the Orioles’ team rookie card. But it is his first individual Topps card and by far his most scarce card from the three primary manufacturers that season.
Mint, graded examples are pushing $300 as of this writing with gem mint copies much higher.
This one was produced by Topps as part of a promotion with east coast snack cake baker Drake’s so it is well known. But it’s also not as plentiful as his regular Topps, Donruss, or Fleer issues from that season.
Part of several sets produced for Drake’s by Topps during the 1980s, the ’83 Ripken is a unique card from early in his career.
Nothing flashy here and it can usually be found for $1 or less. This is, however, one of Ripken’s more noteworthy cards.
It commemorates his selection to the 1983 American League All-Star team–his first time being chosen to the team in fan balloting.
A regular card in Fleer’s 1985 set, this is one of Ripken’s first cards featuring him pictured with his father, coach Cal Ripken, Sr. The elder Ripken managed Cal Jr. for one game that season before taking over as the team’s manager in 1986.
Easy to find and almost always under a buck.
In 1986, a new trading card company came onto the scene in Sportflics. They weren’t as mainstream as the Big Three companies, but youngsters seemed to get a kick out of the magic-motion images that changed by tilting the cards a certain way.
Ripken would go on to be known for breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak. What many fans forget is that Cal’s consecutive innings streak was sort of a big deal as well. That streak spanned from 1982 to 1987 when father and son ended it with 8,243 straight innings played.
Donruss fortunately commemorated the occasion in their year-end Highlights set.
Ripken had already been featured on a card with his father but with his brother now on the Baltimore Orioles as well, it was time for another historic picture. Donruss provided that in its 1988 set with a card of Cal Sr. as coach and Cal Jr. and Billy as players. It was a big deal at the time.
We all know 1988 Donruss were produced in massive quantities but this is still a fun card to own.
With all due respect to Upper Deck, which revolutionized the industry in 1989, another ‘first’ for Ripken was introduced that year as Bowman made its historic comeback. Out of the baseball card business since 1955, the company made a return in 1989 with its jumbo-sized cards. The larger cards were an instant problem for collectors wanting to keep them in prime condition, but combined with the replica signature and non-traditional statistical data on the back, they still made quite a splash.
This photo Topps used is one of the best images of Ripken on any trading card. Even PSA 10s can be found for around 10 bucks.
Ripken was one of the game’s top slugging shortstops and Topps commemorated one of his many records in their 1990 release. Ripken’s Record Breaker card from the set highlights his achievement of hitting 20 or more home runs for eight consecutive seasons, establishing a Major League record for shortstops.
1990 also marked the year Ripken passed Everett Scott to move into second place all-time for consecutive games played.
As the U.S. was involved in a war, baseball was one of those things that kept on going providing a distraction for citizens on the homefront. Topps created a special gold foil logo for several hundred cases that were send overseas to soldiers serving in the Gulf War. Save for that icon, these were exactly the same as the company’s regular issue sold domestically.
Popular and challenging to collect, the Desert Shield cards can be pricey. Ripken also has a Record Breaker card in the set.
Ripken’s 1982 Topps card was special for a couple reasons. First, there was a special gold card insert for every base card in the set – one of Topps’ early forays into parallel cards. Second, as talk began to heat up regarding Ripken’s legendary streak, there was more and more correlation between Ripken and the player he was chasing – Lou Gehrig. Topps took note of this in 1992 and featured Ripken with a plaque of Gehrig.
With a dozen seasons under his belt, Ripken had piled up some impressive credentials, including a pair of MVP awards. In 1993, Leaf projected several players who seemed destined to reach Cooperstown.
His streak almost came to an end after injuring his knee during a brawl with the Mariners and his struggles in the first half of the season led some to call for a day off regardless of his health. He hit much better in the second half of the season.
1993 was the year he reached 2,000 hits.
In 1994, Upper Deck launched a secondary, lower cost brand called Collector’s Choice. The cards never really took off as the flood of releases was starting to swell. Add in a player strike in 1994 and the interest in cards had begun to drop.
Ripken was still chugging along just fine and entering the league in 1981, he had seen a lot. The latest technological item to begin hitting the street during his playing days were some of the first cell phones. Here’s Ripken on one of those, which were approximately the thickness of eight iPhones combined.
Throughout his career, Cal was known as a supreme offensive player at a position often starved in that category. But his glove work wasn’t too bad, either, and Ripken won two Gold Gloves in his career (many feel he should have won at least one or two more). This card recognizes the shortstop’s play in the field.
The 1990s insert sets continue to have a strong following in all sports but this one is still available for under $5.
After Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record in 1995, there was no shortage of ‘2,131’ themed cards in the following year. The Score card offered a geat shot of Ripken, making his famous circle around Camden Yards after the game became official. The low angle shot of fans’ arms outstretched is pretty tough to top.
Bright and colorful with foil etching at the bottom left, it’s among the easier Cal Ripken cards to find and only costs a couple bucks.
Ripken moved back to third base that season, but the streak continued and he helped the Orioles win the American League East before falling to Cleveland in the championship series.
Numbered to 1000, the Millennium Marks Ripken is surprisingly affordable, often selling for less than $100 (again, click the link just above to see if there are currently any available for sale or auction).
Retro issues are often overdone these days, but Chrome’s Flashback inserts in 1998 were great. Expect to pay $10 and up.
In 1998, Ripken’s historic consecutive games streak finally came to an end after 2,632 games. Fleer partnered with Sports Illustrated for a subset and one of those cards recognized the official end to the Iron Man’s streak from the previous year.
Now graying, Ripken appears the elder statesman on this card, which isn’t expensive.
Before his retirement, Ripken would reach one more career milestone in 2000. That season, he collected his 3,000th hit and the moment was captured on a Fleer card that was part of an insert set featuring other members of the club.
While Ripken has any number of attractive 2001 cards to choose from, Topps fittingly ended things by revisiting the moment where it all began for Ripken back with a reprint of his 1982 Topps Traded card produced in his rookie year.