Nicknamed "The Iron Man" due to his incredible streak of consecutive games played (a record 2,131 games played over 17 baseball seasons), Cal Ripken, Jr. is still considered one of baseball's greats (in 1999, Ripken was ranked number 78 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players) and won an incredible amount of awards over his years in the game, including several American League Silver Slugger awards, Rookie of the Year, Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, MLB All-Star Game Most Valuable Player and more. Ripken, Jr. was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1998 and, by a nearly unanimous vote, elected to the Hall of Fame in 2007. Ripken is one of only eight players to hit more than 3,000 hits and 400 home runs.
While Ripken managed incredible stats throughout his career, he also was (and is) an excellent role model, remaining a class act throughout his long career in baseball. Ripken has also given back, contributing to several charitable organizations, including the creation of his own Cal Ripken/Lou Gehrig Fund for Amytrophic Lateral Schlerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease.) While brother Billy was also respected, Billy did get in trouble for his infamous 1989 baseball card, where one could see a curse word written on the bottom of his bat (which was later blacked out.)
Strangely, this set includes some of Ripken's most memorable games from the last years of his career, as the first game included here is from 1995, where Ripken broke Gehrig's 61-year-old record for most consecutive games played, which resulted in a 22-minute standing ovation from the crowd. A dramatic fourth inning home run in the game was caught by a fan, who was nice enough to bring the ball to Ripken, who exchanged it for a signed bat. The second disc offers up a 1996 game in the Seattle Kingdome (an amusing typo lists it as the "Seattle Kingdom" on the front of the DVD insert), where Ripken, Jr. knocked three homers out of the park (he later retired as the Orioles leader in both HR's and RBI.)
The third game is Ripken's postseason 1996 game versus the Indians, where his three hits helped the O's take the win. The fourth game included is in 1999, where Ripken went 6-for-6 (including two homers and a double, driving in 6 runs) versus the Braves. Finally, we get Ripken, Jr.'s Midsummer Classic Sendoff, the 2001 All-Star Game that would be the last of his career (the game was interrupted in the bottom of the 6th inning to present Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn - who had both announced their retirements - the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award), where Ripken knocked the first pitch made to him out of the park. Ripken, Jr. became the first American League player to win the All-Star Game MVP Award twice. Again, while these are great games, the fact that they are all so close date-wise (Ripken, Jr. had a whole lot of career before 1995) makes a set that bills itself to be a look at Ripken's career rather disappointing. The documentary included does sort of make up for it, but not entirely.
What also disappoints me again here on this set - and I've mentioned it in every review of a Major League Baseball product on DVD - is that the MLB logo is once again seen throughout the entire program. While the logo is fairly small, it's sizable enough to be distracting. I was hoping that, for a set as expensive as this, it would be gone, as people who are buying this set have spent a lot to have to view the entire games with the logo in the top corner.
A positive note that must be mentioned is the set's use of the inserts for each of the discs. Instead of just slapping on some basic graphics, the inserts (both inside and out) provide a scorecard, game highlights, trivia, attendance, number of pitches, game running time and trivia. All the information you need to know about each game has been fit onto the cover. Additionally, the scene selection menu allows viewers to skip to the top/bottom of a specific inning.
VIDEO: The games are presented in 1.33:1 full-frame by A & E and, as noted before the menu, the games do have some imperfections that were in the original broadcast recordings. While they have made efforts to try and correct some of these issues, some do remain. Given the fact that these are at least somewhat more recent broadcasts, they do look about broadcast quality, with adequate sharpness and detail and only occasional noise and other issues. Colors remain natural and appear accurate, with no smearing.
SOUND: Clear, crisp stereo audio.
EXTRAS: While this is not one of A & E's World Series sets, the box set does include a similar set of additional bonus footage relating to the material. Footage includes:
* Highlights from game 3,121 postgame ceremony
* Ripken 2001 All-Star game MVP award
* Rare interviews with: Cal Ripken, Jr.; Eddie Murray, Fred Lynn, Bernie Williams and Ryan Minor
* Footage: 1991 Home Run Derby win, 1983 World Series Ending Catch, 1991 All_Star Game MVP Performance; 400th HR, 3,000th Hit and 2001 All-Star Game: Return to Shortstop.
However, while all of this extra footage is terrific and fills out this look at Ripken, Jr.'s career quite nicely, A & E has gone even further this time around and included an hour-long documentary: "Cal Ripken, Jr.: The Iron Man's Legendary Career". The documentary is terrific, offering a great deal of insights from Ripken, as well as many of those who have played with (and against) him over the years.
The other aspect of this documentary that I enjoyed is the doc's look at the legacy of Ripken and how he's influenced the kind of shortstops that one sees today. Some of these new players give their opinions on how Ripken has inspired their careers and their thoughts are heartfelt and interesting, going beyond just basic praise of an extraordinary career.
Final Thoughts: While the games are great, they do not give a full perspective on the great career that Cal Ripken, Jr. enjoyed during his time in baseball (Ripken, Jr.'s rookie year was '82, but these games are all clumped together between 1995-2001.) Still, fans will likely be pleased to have the games available, and the documentary included does provide a good overview of Ripken's career. Hopefully, this set will sell well enough to warrant a sequel that will look at games from Ripken, Jr.'s earlier years.