In a season dominated by the baseball community’s aversion to Barry Bonds’ controversial pursuit of Hank Aaron’s home run record and the extracurricular activities and on-field antics of the game’s best player, Alex Rodriguez, along came Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn riding in to Cooperstown on a figurative pair of white horses to save the day.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame couldn’t ask for a more perfect pairing than Ripken and Gwynn, who together represent baseball at its best. Ripken and Gwynn, who entered the big leagues in 1981 and 1982, respectively, and departed together in 2001, both played their entire career for one team.
At the time of the strike, Gwynn was threatening to become the first player to hit .400 since Ted Williams in 1941. He finished with a .394 average when play stopped on Aug. 12.
Coming a few weeks after Major League Baseball’s All-Star break, the Hall of Fame’s annual induction ceremony affords a welcome opportunity for nostalgic reflection before the pennant races and business of baseball heat up again.
Chairman of the Board of Directors Jane Forbes Clark and Commissioner Bud Selig present Cal Ripken Jr. with his National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque. (Sabina Moran/PressBox)
“[Ripken] is going to save the whole professional sports industry,” said Tom Catal, who works at Safe at Home Ballpark Collectibles, one of many memorabilia shops on Cooperstown’s Main Street.
“As far as his popularity is concerned, he’s a modern day Babe Ruth,” Catal said. “He reminds me of any type of person who has a job and shows up every day and he played a position where it’s really not feasible, but he had that kind of tenacity. [Miguel] Tejada’s streak just ending showed how hard it is. People apply for a job today and the first thing they want to know is how much vacation time they get.”
Ripken’s induction coincided with the Orioles’ hottest streak of this season, which included a series win over the Yankees at home. It gave Baltimore baseball fans their first opportunity to feel really good in a long while.
Ripken joins a long history of Hall of Fame Orioles that includes Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Eddie Murray. (Sabina Moran/PressBox)
As the days progressed last week, a steady stream of Baltimoreans trickled into Cooperstown, flooding the place by Thursday.
On a rainy Friday afternoon, many could be found at Cooley’s Stonehouse Tavern on Pioneer Street. The group included Barbara Logan, who was part of a 15-person contingent of people who either worked for or were related to people who work for Sports Legends/Babe Ruth Museum and beer vendors from Camden Yards.
Cooley’s, a friendly neighborhood bar inhabited most of the time by a group of regulars, was bursting at the seams with the huge group of tourists in town for the weekend.
Tasha Williams works with Logan in Baltimore and is a lifelong Orioles fan who started rooting for the team in conjunction with the beginning of Ripken’s career; she even has a cat named for him. Williams said some of the team’s current players like Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis possess Ripken’s hard-nosed style and work ethic. She also said it is hard to know who to root for in this generation of “who’s clean or not,” but felt that this year’s induction offered a whiff of nostalgic air.
“The unique thing about this induction is that it’s two guys who played their careers for one team and we may never see that again,” Williams said. “Cal stayed with the O’s after they traded his brother and let his dad go.”
Bert Sugar, an author who took part in a group book signing in front of Augurs Corner Book Store on Main Street, and whose list of book credits includes “The 100 Greatest Athletes of All Time,” addressed Ripken’s place in history.
“Cal Ripken is not just a pantheon now, he is an Everest for what he has done,” Sugar said. “His records and what he contributed to the game, he is one of those steady players like a Walter Johnson or a Lou Gehrig, who is going to be considered for many, many, many eons as one of the all-time greats. Cal Ripken is off the field exactly as he is on the field -- steady, dependable and wonderful. He is a legend.”
A perfect example of Ripken’s off-field persona came during the red carpet arrivals and departures of Hall of Fame members for a private ceremony inside the Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
On his way out of the private party, Ripken was greeted by a crowd of admiring onlookers calling to him from behind partitions lining the sidewalk. Cal made his way back and forth, signing autographs for more than an hour.
The next day, an estimated crowd of 75,000, the majority of which seemed to have come from Baltimore, was the largest ever to attend a Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
On his way to the ceremony, former big leaguer Steve Garvey, whose 1,207 consecutive games played still represent the longest streak in National League history and fourth best all time, was quick to offer his thoughts on Ripken.
“There’s no bigger fan than I am, simply because I have a true understanding of his commitment to the game and of course having a streak of my own I know what it takes in dedication and he doubled mine,” he said. “I just have tremendous respect for Cal and his family and what he’s done for the game and what he’ll continue to do as an ambassador.”
Overcast conditions in the morning gave way to a steamy, muggy afternoon, but everyone cozied up next to one another just the same.
Prior to Gwynn's and Ripken’s speeches, Hall of Fame president Dale Petrosky announced that the previous day’s collective attendance for major league baseball games exceeding 717,000 was the largest figure in history. The 14,000 fans who passed through the Hall of Fame was also the most the museum had ever seen and the crowd in attendance for the ceremony was obviously the largest in Induction Day history.
Call it coincidence or call it another magic moment for Ripken, but with the rise of a full moon, the planets seemed to be perfectly aligned and at least for a day all was right in the baseball world.
While writing this story, former Orioles general manager and lifelong baseball man Roland Hemond walked into the library with his family and I was able to join him on a tour of the Hall of Fame’s collection storage room.
We also perused a couple of the Hall’s regular exhibits. His family wanted to see the World Series ring collection and while they were gazing into the display case, other onlookers noticed the rings on Hemond’s fingers (1957 Milwaukee Braves and the 1995 Chicago White Sox). At once the room turned into an interactive exhibit as he removed the White Sox ring and let members of the group try it on and pose for photographs with it. Hemond introduced himself and explained his role with the championship clubs. In the Hall of Fame gallery, he posed for a photograph in front of the plaque of his mentor, former White Sox and Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck, with whom he worked for five years in Chicago.
Issue 2.31: August 2, 2007