O'Brien, Ripken brothers will intersect
Cal Ripken Jr., and Seattle U legends Johnny and Eddie O'Brien will be together for a Redhawks baseball dinner next week. And in February, the three will be in Maryland, along with Cal's brother Billy Ripken, for a fundraiser.
Seattle Times staff reporter
In Johnny O'Brien's first major-league at-bat in 1953, he struck out on a killer curve by Carl Erskine, the fine right-hander of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
As O'Brien left the batter's box, Dodgers Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella called out, "Johnny, those basketballs don't curve, do they?"
Johnny and his twin brother Eddie had become basketball legends at Seattle University, leading the Chieftains to their first NCAA tournament earlier that year. But it was in baseball, with the Pittsburgh Pirates, they forged their pro careers. The two played side-by-side in the Pirates' infield for parts of five seasons.
In fact, the O'Briens ended their careers with major-league records for most games and most double plays by a second base/shortstop brother combination — a record that was eventually shattered by the Ripkens, Cal and Billy.
Now those two sets of baseball brothers are about to intersect, all for a good cause.
Cal Ripken Jr. is coming to Seattle to be the keynote speaker at the Hutch Award banquet on Wednesday.
But first, Ripken is going to speak at the Seattle University baseball team's "Meet the Redhawks " Dinner on Tuesday night at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center. Also attending will be the O'Brien twins, now a robust 81, who have maintained close ties with their alma mater.
But that's not the end of it. Cal is flying both O'Briens back to Maryland to attend the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation's Aspire Gala — its main fundraising event — on Feb. 10. Billy couldn't make it to the Seattle event, but he'll be at the Ripken gala, and the four will pose for a picture to commemorate the record.
The O'Briens, it turns out, had befriended Cal Ripken Sr. when the three of them served together in the Army at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. And over the years they have helped out the Ripken Foundation and Ripken Baseball by appearing at various clinics in Seattle.
Like many others, they admired Cal Jr. from afar as he shattered Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played. Growing up in New Jersey, Johnny O'Brien's idol had been Gehrig, and when he joined the Pirates, he asked for Gehrig's No. 4.
"They said, 'You can have it if you talk Kiner out of it,' " laughed O'Brien, referring to Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, a Pirates slugger. "I always felt that record was sacrosanct, but Cal sailed by that like it was standing still."
O'Brien says that he and his brother can relate to the sixth sense that develops between brothers. They had it on the basketball court and also on the baseball field — but not immediately. Eddie, a center fielder at Seattle U, was converted to shortstop by Pirates owner Branch Rickey, while Johnny, a shortstop and third baseman in college, became a second baseman.
"We had done so much together with basketball at Seattle University," Johnny O'Brien said. "We played with five different teams in New Jersey before that. We could anticipate what one another was doing. People always say you have that ESP, or as I say, that ESPN."
The O'Briens ended up playing 112 games together with the Pirates and turning something in the neighborhood of 50 double plays. The Ripkens played 688 games in the Orioles' middle infield, combining on 296 double plays, from 1987 to 1992.
The only other sets of brothers to play together at shortstop and second base were the Hamners, Garvin and Granny, with the Phillies in 1945, and Frank and Milt Bolling with the Tigers in 1958.
Eddie O'Brien said of Ripken, "Having played shortstop, I know you get hit all the time there. Gehrig at first base was not so much in the line of fire, but in the shortstop position, you're battered all the time. To play that many games in a row at that position is amazing. I can really relate to the fact that a lot of days he played he shouldn't have played."
Seattle University baseball coach Donny Harrel called the O'Briens "our true icons — and they stayed in the community. They're very humble people with great experience and tremendous stories."
The same could be said of Cal Ripken Jr. — and they'll all be together on Tuesday.
Ticket information for the "Meet the Redhawks" Dinner with Cal Ripken Jr. can be obtained by calling 206-398-4420.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com