In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.
There is a special type of baseball culture that I haven’t really covered yet… the baseball biography comic. Whether authorized or unauthorized, the baseball bio-comic is it’s own small subgenre of weird.
Take Baseball Superstars Comics‘ bio-comic on Cal Ripken, Jr. from 1992. A black-and-white comic from the now long-defunct “Revolutionary Comics” and seventh in a series of baseball bio-comics, it’s like a fever-dream of a look into the life and times of the Orioles great up through the 1991 season. The art is disturbing, the writing wooden, and the facts sometimes feel wrong.
That said, it’s not all bad. It’s got a so-bad-it’s-good quality at times, and any comic that features two pages devoted to the longest game ever is going to get my attention.
So, on his 54th birthday, here’s a look at the Baseball Superstars comic on Cal Ripken Jr…. after the jump:
Here’s the cover:
Now, on the cover, you can spot the first error of the comic, as the number on Cal’s uniform in the back is clearly not an 8, and instead appears to be something that ends with a 2. Whoops.
Now, in the inside cover, there is a brief bio of Ripken. Again, there are mistakes. Despite this comic coming out in 1992 and going through the 1991 season, for some reason only his stats and accomplishments through the 1989 season are included here. Did they only have an old edition Baseball Encyclopedia available?
On the first page of the story itself, we see Cal’s locker, with scenes of his life as photographs hanging on it and a brief tidbit about how Cal is a honest man and hard worker.. and, wait a second…
Oh. Sorry about that. Moving on…
We begin at the beginning, as we learn how Cal Sr. and Violet Ripken met, and how Cal was born on August 24, 1960, while his father was in Topeka, Kansas playing SS for the “Comets”, and that as some are said to be born with a silver spoon, Cal was born with a baseball in his… and… hang on…
A) Cal Ripken Sr. was a catcher and outfielder, sometimes even a pitcher, but NEVER a shortstop.
B) In 1960, Cal Ripken Sr. was playing for the Fox Cities Foxes in the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League, not any team called the Comets (there were no teams in the league called the Comets) and not in Topeka (although Topeka was in the league, so it could have been an away game. Doesn’t change the fact this comic depicts him wearing a hat with a “T” on it, though…)
C) DEAR GOD, IS THAT BLOBOUS THING SUPPOSED TO BE BABY CAL RIPKEN JR!?!?! IT’S LIKE IF BABE RUTH WAS TURNED INTO A CABBAGE PATCH DOLL AND… AND… WHAT THE HECK!?!?!?
Oh, pardon me. Moving on. Senior’s playing career comes to a early end due to injury, and the family lives in Aberdeen, Maryland, where soon Cal’s baby brother Billy comes along:
Oh, excuse me. Moving on. We see Cal’s youth, as Junior hurts himself jumping around after winning a game of checkers, we see him asking why his brother Fred why he won’t come play ball (Fred instead is fooling around with an engine, an apparent reference to how he became a mechanic), and see his curiosity about baseball grow. He goes through school, learns the benefits of a good diet and staying in shape, and is ultimately drafted out of high school by the Orioles.
It’s then that we learn he had trouble at the start:
So, Cal works his way up through the minors. In Miami, he he finds that some of his teammates think he is only playing because his father is a coach for the Orioles. He soon finds his stroke, however, and does well both there and in AA Charlotte. Then, in Rochester in 1981, he takes part in the longest game in history:
1) Continuity/reality error, in that at the top of the first page, where he’s still with Charlotte in 1980, Cal seems to have an “RW” hat on that would indicate playing for the Rochester Red Wings.
2) The longest game started the night of April 18, not April 19th, as the comic said.
3) The line score for the game is wrong on the scoreboard initially.
4) At one point they misspell “Cal Ripken” as “Cal Ripkin”. Seriously? You can’t get the name of the guy who you are writing a bio-comic on spelled right?
Anyway, Cal is called up in late 1981 and is a rookie in 1982, where Earl Weaver makes him a shortstop.
He soon becomes a star, and popular with the ladies. However, the comic tells us, he continued to be respectful to women, instead focusing on baseball, pick-up basketball games, and occasionally sunbathing during Spring Training:
And then… oh, you know what? Here’s the problem with a biography comic: they are boring. You already know what’s going to happen. In a biography book, at least you can get some sort of insights into the people they are about, how they felt about things, how things looked through their eyes or what their role in something was. But in a comic… you just see everything happen. I mean, that’s not bad, especially for people who aren’t as familiar with the subject. However, it is boring for people who are already familiar with players.
And, what’s more, somebody like Ripken isn’t the most thrilling of people to have a biography on. His life, unlike that of Ruth, DiMaggio, Durocher or Big Ed Delahanty, doesn’t have much sex, drugs or rock’n’roll or other such scandals, and it’s not like you can play up him returning from injuries or overcoming a tough childhood either.
So, instead of giving the blow-by-blow, I’m going to just show some highlights from the rest of the comic.
For example, after the Orioles win the 1983 World Series, Cal says they are going to Disney World:
Next Time on Bizarre Baseball Culture: D’OH!
Previously on Bizarre Baseball Culture:
Prologue: “Rockets on the Mound” (short story)
20. Shortstop Squad
21. Cosmic Slam
23. Mariners Mojo
32. Mr. Go
34. Cal Ripken Jr. Bio-Comic (you are here)