Continuing Mark Schremmer’s list of best KC Royals games to attend, he looks back on a 1990 doubleheader that featured George Brett and Cal Ripken Jr.
Editor’s note: With Major League Baseball still on hiatus, Mark Schremmer started writing a series of stories about the best games he’s attended in Kansas City. The first installment was a 1984 game that saw Greg Pryor lead the KC Royals to victory with a solo home run in the bottom of the 16th inning.
More than 19,600 players have competed in the majors during the century-and-a-half history of Major League Baseball. Only 235 of those players have been elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
When you think about it that way, you realize that getting to watch one of these unicorns play is truly a privilege.
Out of that 235, only 57 have been elected on their first ballot. And out of those 57, only 33 received at least 90% of the votes in their first year eligible for the Hall of Fame. Going even further, only eight players — Ty Cobb, Tom Seaver, George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken Jr., Ken Griffey Jr., Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter — in the history of Major League Baseball have received at least 98% of the vote on their first ballot.
On one overcast Saturday afternoon in 1990, I was fortunate enough to watch two of those eight players compete in a doubleheader.
The July 28, 1990 twinbill at Royals Stadium between the Baltimore Orioles and the KC Royals featured Ripken and Brett, of course. What made it even better is that we were pretty sure we were watching two Hall of Famers at the time.
By 1990, Brett was a living legend. He was already an MVP in 1980, a World Series champion in 1985, a two-time American League batting champion, a 13-time All-Star, and was well on his way to 3,000 hits.
Ripken was only playing in the 10th of his 21 MLB seasons in 1990, but his path to Cooperstown already appeared paved. He was Rookie of the Year in 1982, led the Orioles to a World Series championship and won the MVP in 1983, and had just played in his eighth consecutive All-Star game earlier that month.
Both could still play.
Even though Brett was 37 years old, the former third baseman and now first baseman/designated hitter still possessed one of the best bats in the game. He entered the doubleheader batting over .300 and would go on to win the third batting title of his career with a .329 average that season.
Ripken was about a month shy of his 30th birthday and was still in the prime of his career. He won his second MVP in 1991 and finished his career in 2001 with 19 consecutive All-Star appearances.
The two Hall of Famers started and batted cleanup in both games of the doubleheader.
My brothers and I had watched Brett in person before, but this was our first opportunity to see Ripken play live. Before the game, we went down to the railing and tried to catch a better glimpse and maybe get an autograph. We didn’t have any luck with the autograph, but we did get to see two competitive games.
Brett got the best of Ripken in the opener, batting 3-for-5 with a double and a home run. No. 5 struck out in his first at-bat but then belted a three-run homer down the right-field line off Pete Harnisch in the bottom of the third, a double off Joe Price in the seventh, and a single against Mark Williamson in the eighth.
Even at age 11, I realized that the odds of the 37-year-old Brett hitting a triple to complete the cycle were slim. Still, we kind of hoped the game would go extra innings to give Brett another chance at it.
However, Kurt Stillwell’s two-run homer off Williamson in the seventh was enough to give the KC Royals a 10-9 lead, and relief pitcher Jeff Montgomery held the Orioles scoreless in the eighth and ninth for his 14th save of the season.
Ripken enjoyed a good but not great game. He batted 1-for-3 with a sacrifice RBI, a walk, and a run scored. Trailing 10-9, he led off the top of the eighth with a double to centerfield off Montgomery. The Hall of Famer was stranded and the Royals were able to avoid extra innings and earn the 10-9 victory.
In the second game of the doubleheader, Ripken earned hero status. He was 2-for-2 with two walks and, most importantly, knocked in the go-ahead run with a single off Steve Farr in the seventh to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead. Baltimore went on to earn a 3-1 win. Brett was 1-for-4 with a double and scored the game’s only run for the KC Royals.
The day ended with two close games and quite a bit of action.
But, honestly, what made this doubleheader make my “greatest games” list had little to do with what occurred on the field that day. The 35,592 fans received the unique treat of getting to watch two of baseball’s all-time best in two games on the same day. The two legends didn’t disappoint, batting a combined 7-for-14 with three doubles, a home run, six RBI and four runs scored.
It was a treat that meant a lot to me than and even more now as I realize how rarely these kind of opportunities come around.