On Sunday, May 30, 1982, there were 21,632 fans in attendance at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium to see the Orioles lose, 6-0, to the Toronto Blue Jays. They didn’t know it, but the fans were witnessing something special.
It was the first career victory for then-Toronto pitcher Jim Gott.
Oh, and it also was the first game of Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive games streak.
It would take 13 years before the right-hander realized the greater significance of the day.
“I was not even aware of it until spring training [of 1995,]” Gott, 57, said 35 years later. “I was playing [for the Los Angeles Dodgers against] the Blue Jays and I was talking with Paul Molitor in the outfield — he was with the Blue Jays at the time. Paul looked over at me and goes, ‘You’re Jim Gott?’ I said yes and he goes, ‘You realize that your first win was the day that Cal Ripken started The Streak,’ and I did not realize that. So here we were 13 years later, so it was crazy.”
Gott, who went 56-74 during his 14-year career with the Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates and Dodgers, does remember the day quite well, however.
“It was an interesting day because my dad had flown in from California to see me pitch and I had not gotten a win yet,” said Gott, a Southern California native. “I was pitching against [Hall of Famer] Jim Palmer, who was a huge icon and somebody that I looked up to growing up.
“I remember that day, too, because Brooks Robinson was an agent at the time or working with an agency. So he came over during breakfast at the hotel and sat with my dad and I for a few minutes and just talked about his agency and he’d love to have me with them. It was just so overwhelming, everything.”
The day was actually even more exciting for Gott because two of the hitters he was facing in the Orioles’ lineup — Hall of Famer Eddie Murray and catcher Rick Dempsey — also were from Southern California.
The No. 8 hitter in the lineup that day — Ripken — was someone Gott was somewhat aware of.
“The year before — 1981 — they had the strike that year,” Gott said. “And I remember they had televised some minor league games to kind of fill some of the big-league time. I saw three or four games that Cal was playing in because he was with Rochester at the time, I think. And I just remember hearing about this budding superstar that was getting ready to come to the big leagues.”
The game was much less memorable for Ripken.
“Obviously, at the time of the game I had no idea I wouldn’t miss another game for 16 years or so, so I don’t have specific memories of that game,” Ripken said. “I know that we lost 6-0 to Toronto and I went 0-for-2 with a walk, so not very memorable. Somebody told me when The Streak started there were 26 major league teams and when it ended there were 30. I thought that was pretty cool.”
Gott’s role in one of the more significant days in baseball history eventually would come to the forefront. As the Orioles began planning for the celebration of Ripken’s record-breaking 2,131st consecutive game in September 1995, they reached out to Gott with an idea.
“Ironically, I was on the disabled list for another time in my career,” Gott said. “We had a baby in January, I had just had my surgery in early August, so I’m three weeks recovering from major surgery on my shoulder, or a month, whatever it was. And I was out walking our baby in the neighborhood, and when I came back my wife said … ‘I just got a call from the Orioles and they were asking if you would be willing to give up [the ball from] your first major league win to be there for the celebration with Cal breaking the record.’
“And I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ And she was like, ‘I feel the same way!’ We both were just so unbelievably excited to be part of — this is baseball history! Geez! And I felt like, to give up the ball, it was like the Little Drummer Boy playing the drums [for baby Jesus].”
With no trepidation, Gott confirmed he’d participate and gift the ball to the future Hall of Famer, one of the few trinkets he had from his first career win. During the postgame ceremony, Ripken was reluctant to accept the gift.
“He was like, ‘I can’t take this from you,'” Gott said. “We had a little banter out on the field. He was like, ‘I can’t take this.’ I said, ‘Oh, man, you got to.’ I appreciated him saying that because he knows how significant these things are. I don’t think he realized how much all ballplayers honored what he had just done. For me, I felt like I was giving that gift for every other player in baseball. Just to say thank you for being such a great example for all of us.”
The ball is Ripken’s lone memento from the game.
“That was really special,” Ripken said of Gott offering him the ball. “Knowing that it was Jim’s first win and him coming to the record-breaking game to present it to me meant a great deal. At first, I didn’t want to take it from him, but he really wanted me to have it and I am grateful for it. I still have it in my personal collection.
“I don’t have anything else from that first game, so having the ball from Jim is very special to me.”
Looking back three-and-a-half decades after that first career start, the entire experience was serendipitous for Gott.
“Unbelievable, just the whole timing of everything,” Gott said. “Because there’s no way I could have [participated in the 2,131 ceremony] if I was on the active list. There’s no way. I wouldn’t have been able to go.
“For that to happen and the timing to be right and then to look back at the timing of my first win? Geez. Wow.”
For more from Gott, including how his participation in the 2,131 celebration actually ended up benefiting Autism charities, listen here:
Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox
Originally published May 30, 2017.