Iron clad

Everything about Ripken enriches baseball, Hall

Everything about Ripken enriches baseball, Hall

July 29, 2007|By DAVID GINSBURG

BALTIMORE - Cal Ripken Jr. will forever be known as the Iron Man, a fitting title for the most durable athlete in the rich history of the sport known as America's Pastime.

The nickname captures the perseverance of the former Baltimore Orioles star, who played in 2,632 consecutive games from 1982-98. It would be an injustice, however, to summarize the spectacular 21-year career of Calvin Edwin Ripken Jr. solely by The Streak.

In assessing Ripken's affect on baseball, his peers and the fans who cheered for him, there are two words more appropriate than Iron & Man: Awe and respect. It wasn't so much that he participated in 2,632 games; it's how he played them.

"You are who you are, and you hope your actions show who you are. But at the same time, I worry about what the kids pick up from the game," Ripken said. "You're representing the game, your team and the organization at the same time, as well as yourself. In looking back, I'm pretty proud that kids looked at me in a certain way."


So did his peers. Former San Diego Padres standout Tony Gwynn, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame with Ripken today, acknowledged his friend's contribution to baseball in a video tribute during the Orioles' send-off ceremony to Ripken on Tuesday.

"You epitomize to me what is good about the game," Gwynn told Ripken. "The way you went about your business, the way you played the game and, more importantly, the way you dealt with people. You set a great example for all of us."

Ripken rarely missed infield practice or batting practice. And, of course, he never skipped a game for nearly 17 years.

"I don't think Cal Ripken really conditioned himself to play in 2,632 consecutive games. He conditioned himself to play baseball when the ballclub needed him," said former Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey, the MVP of the 1983 World Series. "Whether he did it every single day or not, it's insignificant. It's a great statistic to have because it shows how tough he was. But Cal put up the numbers. He was there in the clutch when you needed him."

Ripken retired in 2002 as one of seven players in major league history with more than 400 home runs and 3,000 hits. He won two MVP awards, was the 1982 rookie of the year, won two Gold Gloves and was named to the All-Star team an AL-record 19 times.

The 6-foot-4 Ripken also redefined the shortstop position.

"He revolutionized baseball," Dempsey said. "A guy that big and strong, playing shortstop and playing it the way he did. He was smart. He knew the hitters. He thought about the game, he positioned himself well. That's why he's a Hall of Famer. Because he played hard every day for his entire career."

Ripken's consecutive games streak may never be broken, but that's not the only record he owns that just might last forever. In 1990, he made only three errors at shortstop over 161 games. Along the way, he set a record at the position with 95 straight errorless games and 428 successive errorless chances.

"Not everybody knows what a good shortstop he really was," said Earl Weaver, Ripken's first manager and member of the Hall of Fame. "I don't think there's any way that anybody is going to play over 150 games at shortstop and make three errors or less."

Ozzie Smith gained entry to the Hall of Fame because of his fielding prowess, but the fewest errors he had in a season in which he played at least 150 games was eight. And, the Wizard of Oz never came close to duplicating the .996 fielding percentage Ripken had in 1990.

Ripken grew up in Maryland, was drafted by the Orioles in 1978 and spent his entire career in Baltimore. He was adored by the fans, thousands of whom will join Ripken in Cooperstown to share the moment with the player they idolized for two decades.

Tim Raeke is a former Baltimore resident who now lives in Galveston, Texas. The 47-year-old planned to arrive in Baltimore on Tuesday, watch a couple of games at Camden Yards and then head to Cooperstown as part of a bus caravan of 500 members of The Orioles Advocates, the team's largest fan club.

For Raeke, it's a once-in-a-lifetime trip to see a player that comes along once in a lifetime.

"It's the type of guy that Cal is," Raeke said. "He always did everything right; there were no controversies in his career. A lot of the young players today, they play for the money. He played for, and loved, the game of baseball. I don't think I know anyone else with that kind of persona that Cal Ripken has: He's wholesome, he's good."

Even if he didn't play in 2,632 straight games - shattering the seemingly unbreakable mark of 2,130 set by former New York Yankees great Lou Gehrig - Ripken would be entering the Hall of Fame.

But, like it or not, he is defined by The Streak.

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