cover image The Longest Season

The Longest Season

Cal Ripken, Jr., , illus. by Ron Mazellan. . Philomel, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-399-244926

Ripken Jr., known for his ferocious competitiveness, shares behind-the-scenes feelings about the lowest light of his otherwise-sparkling career: the Baltimore Orioles' 1988 season, which began with 21 consecutive losses. (They did not break the Phillies' loss record—23 in a row during the 1961 season.) With his father, Ripken Sr., managing, and brother Bill at second base, the three would be starting the season on the same team for the first time ever—"a dream come true for us Ripkens." It lasted only until loss No. 6, after which Ripken Sr. was fired, replaced by Hall of Famer Frank Robinson (who had no better luck turning around the Birds' fortunes). Ripken Jr.'s intimate text reads like it could have been lifted from a diary. After the fifth loss, he admits relief at being on the road, since the hometown newspapers, "have declared hunting season on us. I wonder if my mom is reading the articles." Mazellan's watercolors emit the burnished glow of yesteryear, but his ballpark scenes are better than his portraits—he doesn't quite capture Ripken Jr.'s face, the most remarkable feature of which are his startling blue eyes. Though there's clearly a message here about perseverance and teamwork, Ripken doesn't preach. The tone throughout is measured frustration. "Winning is easy on a person, but you learn more from losing," he concludes. With his first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame, Ripken's name is on the sports pages again, but this book is a timeless palliative for any kid on the wrong side of a streak. Ages 6-up. (Apr.)