In August 1997, the Baltimore Orioles deliberately created a lighting malfunction before a game to keep Cal Ripken's consecutive game streak intact.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Ripken’s most remarkable of streaks was that he started every game (i.e., his streak included no pinch-hitting, pinch-running, or late-inning defensive appearances), he voluntarily left a game before the seventh inning only four times (in addition to twice being ejected by umpires), and at one point he played every single inning of every single game for a span over five years.
In other words, Ripken didn’t even come close to missing a game during his
Cal Ripken, Jr. was allowing Kevin Costner, the actor, to stay at his house, following the wrap of “The Postman”. One day, Ripken left for Camden Yards to play in a game. Somewhere between his home and the stadium, Cal realized that he had left something back at his house, and turned back to retrieve it. Upon arriving at his home, he found Kevin Costner in bed with his wife, Kelly. Cal then proceeded to beat the crap out of Costner, to the point that Costner was unable to make any publicity opportunities for a time. Cal then called the Orioles, and told them he wouldn’t be coming in to play that day. Upon hearing this, the owner reminded Cal about his streak, telling him The Streak would end if he didn’t play that day. Cal told him it was impossible for him to come in, so there went the streak. Reportedly, the owner told him not to worry, because he would take care of it. That night, the game was cancelled due to “electrical failure” with some lights on the field. The caller [I heard this rumor from] said that there was no problem with the lights, that everything else, including the hotels and restaurants that are part of Camden Yards, worked perfectly. The next day, the lights were fixed, Cal was able to play, and the streak stayed intact.
A game between the Orioles and the Seattle Mariners scheduled for Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore on
The crew finally got the bank of lights working by
Given that Johnson was a left-hander who threw extremely hard, and the lighting outage occurred on the first-base side of the field (i.e., the side on which batters would be visually picking up the ball from Johnson’s hand as the southpaw threw towards home plate), the risk of serious injury to a batter was deemed too great to allow the game to proceed. The contest was cancelled and made up as part of a double-header the following day.
Shortly afterwards, a conspiracy rumor was concocted from this scenario which involved actor Kevin Costner, who had a long-standing friendship with Cal Ripken, and rumors of marital difficulties between Ripken and his wife Kelly. According to that rumor, Ripken caught Costner in bed with his wife on the morning of
In order to preserve the tremendous publicity value of Ripken’s consecutive game steak, Orioles management quickly arranged for someone in the Camden Yards facilities crew to create a ‘malfunction’ that would prevent the day’s game from coming off as scheduled and provide Ripken with a much-needed day off to recover from his ordeal.
Kevin Costner and Cal Ripken, Jr. met in 1990 at a premiere of Costner’s film Dances with Wolves and began what Costner described as a “burgeoning friendship.” Before a game during the 1991 season, Costner took batting and fielding practice with the Orioles, played catch on the sidelines, went through stretching exercises in the outfield, and batted and took grounders with Ripken. Costner was often seen taking in Orioles games from the stands at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, sometimes sitting with Ripken’s wife, Kelly.
In late 1997, gossip began circulating to the effect that the Ripkens had separated, Cal was staying with a teammate, and a divorce was imminent. The rumors included claims of infidelities on both sides, with the male interloper named as anyone from “an Orioles trainer” to Costner (who at the time lived about an hour from the Ripkens’ ranch). From such rumors was the “mysterious game cancellation” legend concocted back in 1998.
Whether the electrical outage was “mysterious” or not, it wasn’t devised to keep Ripken’s streak alive by forcing the cancellation of a game he would otherwise have missed. News reports of the day’s events prove Ripken was present at the ballpark, suited up and ready to play, and both fans and reporters noted him sitting in the dugout and playing catch along the sidelines that evening.
Ripken himself addressed the rumor in a 2008 interview on NPR:
It’s easy to check the facts of that one. I remember it very well. The bank of lights went off and Randy Johnson was pitching for the Seattle Mariners. And we were deciding what to do about that. Was there enough visible light out there to actually see a guy throwing over 100 miles per hour? The bank was just over our dugout. And I physically went out and tested it for the umpire. I was in discussion with the umpires. I was definitely there, I was ready to play. And the funny part about it was we all decided it was better that we play that night, because the next day would have been a Sunday day game, and Randy Johnson would have been throwing out of the stands, and in day games he’s much harder to see. So we all decided that we were going to go. Evidently [Mariners manager] Lou Piniella told Seattle a little different story that the game wasn’t going to go, and they started leaving the ballpark, so we didn’t have that option after all. We scheduled it for the next day, and we played. But I definitely was there. And I’m sure I was on camera a number of times being out on the field.
When this legend was repeated by a couple of hosts on Fox Sports Radio in June 2001, an angry Costner called the show the next day to deny it and tell the hosts that if they had claimed the story was true, “I was going to take your heads off.” Costner maintained at the time that he had met Ripken’s wife only twice in his life, that he had probably spent no more than
Whatever Kevin Costner’s relationship with the Ripkens might have been, Cal and Kelly stayed together long afterwards (they were married for 28 years), and Costner didn’t make some Machiavellian maneuvering on the part of the Orioles necessary to keep Cal from missing a game.
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