Sunday, July 29, 2007

Cal Ripken: The Iron Man

He was always one of my favorite "opposition" players. I always respected his talent, work ethic and dedication to the game of baseball.

Today, Cal Ripken goes into the Hall of Fame with Tony Gwynn, two very deserving men. They both played the game the right way, and they both join the immortals of the sport forever at Cooperstown this afternoon.

I will now turn over the rest of this blog to my friend Eddie Dalder, who is a huge Cal Ripken fan from Maryland. He sent me a very nice email about one of his idols, and I thought I would share it with all of you. Thanks for sharing your memories, Eddie.

Most people will be watching ballgames today when I will be looking towards Cooperstown. I know that football is near but today is special. I grew near Baltimore and my favorite athlete will always be Cal Ripken, Jr. The past week has caused me to remember his career and a time when The Baltimore Orioles were a good team. I'd like to share some thoughts.

Cal Ripken Sr. was the ultimate Oriole. Many Oriole players who came through the team's minor leagues in the '60s and '70s say "Senior" was the best coach they ever had. He was a baseball lifer like many whose consistency and excellence will not make headlines. There was a method called "The Oriole Way." Every player from the lowest minor league to the major league roster received the same instruction so that habits and drills were consistent. "Perfect practice makes perfect" was a saying attributed to Senior. He eventually wrote his own expanded version. Cal, Jr.and Bill Ripken grew up in the minor leagues wherever their father went. Junior even said he would go with his father to practices just for the time in the caralone with his father.

One winter's day, Cal Senior needed to plow snow, so he hand cranked an old tractor. It backfired and the crank hit him. Senior had an ugly gash. His sons were telling him to go the hospital. Senior applied an oilyrag, plowed the snow-then he went to the hospital. Is it any wonder why Cal played so many games in a row?

Bill Ripken was a good player in his own right. .291 average in 1991, slick fielding second baseman. However, when your brother is "The Iron Man", you tend to be overshadowed. A heckler once yelled, "You'll never be as good as your brother."

Bill responded, "I know."

Jon Miller once said that, in a western movie, Bill would have broken his brother out of jail. He had a baseball card recalled because of an obscenity written on the knob of the bat. Bill said this about the stat obsessed reaction to Cal's election to The Hall of Fame, "It's not about pure numbers. Certain so-called 'experts' have said that if it wasn't for the streak, Cal wouldn't go into the Hall of Fame. As far as I'm concerned, those people are on crack.'' Most people don't know that Cal was a great basketball player. Bill saw that his brother had amazing physical skill. Bill and Cal run a baseball academy. Cal is the public face while Bill does the day-to-day instruction. He has no regrets.

Few people have heard of Ernie Tyler. He is the home plate attendant at Camden Yards. He will rub up the baseballs and look after the umpires. His sons run the clubhouses. Ernie is 83 and had missed a game since 1960-a few months before Cal Jr. was born. Mr. Tyler will end his streak at 3,769 games because Cal invited Ernie to be his guest at today's Hall of Fame inductions. His sons can't make it. The Yankees are in town. Tony Gwynn is a perfect companion to Cal Ripken Jr. Both were examples of longevity and excellence. "Punch and Judy hitter" is usually an insult, but not to Mr. Gwynn. He is the best hitter I have seen.

A .338 lifetime batting average shows that. I am sure his conversations with Ted Williams on hitting must have been fascinating. Tony hit .370 in 1987 but finished 8th in the MVP voting. He admits he was mad at the time. However,well, as the commercial said, "Chicks dig the longball." Gwynn and Ripken practiced their chosen craft and did it well. Tony is now the baseball coach at San Diego State and his son; Tony, Jr. is playing with the Milwaukee Brewers. Gwynn Sr. will become a grandfather in the fall. Congratulations on your election and that life event. As Harry Chapin once sang, "All my life's a circle, sunrise and sundown."

2,131 will be Cal Ripken's ultimate legacy. I doubt it saved baseball. It has shown remarkable resilience in spite the efforts of owners and players to kill it. Fourteen years without a day off is hard to understand. Most people can appreciate the idea because we punch the clock ever day, do our job well, and then go home. Cal understood he had a privilege with obligations. He signed for hours after games. I was stunned when I heard fans in opposing ballparks applauding him. 2,131 was a "good" when the sport needed it. It reminded people of the excellence of Lou Gehrig. His streak ended because he had a fatal illness that bears his name. Barry Bonds has helped people remember the grace and ability of Hank Aaron. "The Hammer"withstood hate mail, death threats and prejudice from as he passed the immortal Babe Ruth. Numbers may be surpassed, but the legends of Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth will reign and be cherished.

I was present at game 2,130 as Cal tied Lou Gehrig. It was fun. The Orioles won 8-0, Cal hit a home run and got a 6 minute ovation. It was a party and something I will always remember. My favorite memory was the 2001 All Star Game. Ripken had announced his retirement, Gwynn, and both were in a "Summer of Love." Sure, the pitch may have been grooved in there, but Cal hit it out for a home run. As the saying goes "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story." I saw a home run and a tear came to my eye. I realized later that my extended childhood was ending. I was an adult with responsibilities, but Cal playing reminded me of my childhood when life seemed simpler. Now both Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn enter The Hall of Fame together. They entered baseball at the same time, retired at the same time and set a high standard. Cal said upon his retirement it is an honor to be remembered at all.

Congratulations gentlemen.


Anonymous said...

OMG!!! I remember the flack over that Billy Ripken F-You card! But I never would have thought of it funny!

The Omnipotent Q said...

I remember that card.....very funny indeed!

Steel36 said...

The offending word was "F*** Face"

Bill retired in 1995. He tried to catch on with The Tigers-who at that time the worst of the worst.

Bill got cut in Spring Training. His reaction something like "hey I got cut by the worst team in baseball. I truly suck." So he retired