Cal Ripken of the Baltimore Orioles
A Hero's Welcome To the Hall
Former Oriole Great Ripken Is Enshrined
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 30, 2007; A01
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y., July 29 -- When the "Iron Man" himself came to the last of what he termed "three hot spots" in his speech, he melted. Cal Ripken Jr. had practiced those parts -- about his late father, about his mother who sat before him, about his wife and children -- and calculated how he would feel as he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
It is Ripken's way to leave nothing to chance. Yet here was, finally, something he couldn't handle, thanking his son and daughter and "the love of my life," his wife Kelly. On a Sunday afternoon, in front of a crowd estimated at 75,000 -- the largest on induction day in Hall history -- Ripken, the former Baltimore Orioles shortstop, and former San Diego Padre outfielder Tony Gwynn were welcomed into baseball's most exclusive club, an experience Ripken called "amazing and overwhelming."
The two company men, each of whom played his entire career with one franchise, have come to represent a purity so many feel the game has lost, and each seemed to sense how important their defining qualities -- workmanship, diligence, love of their craft -- were to those on hand as they addressed the crowd and 53 fellow Hall of Famers.
"Whether we like it or not, as big leaguers, we are role models," Ripken said in his 16-minute speech. "The only question is, 'Will it be positive or negative?' "
He went on to preach that "teamwork, leadership, work ethic and trust are all part of the game."
Ripken's speech, delivered under a blue sky dotted with white clouds that didn't hint of the thunderstorms organizers feared, was pure Ripken. He reiterated the philosophy that begat a record streak of 2,632 consecutive games played -- "I always looked at it as showing up for work every day" -- and in accordance with that, he offered a salute to teachers, police officers, businesspeople and parents who approach life as he does.
Ripken, too, mixed in a tinge of rarely seen emotion, and touched on a vision for the future that involves kids learning his values through baseball. In reading directly from prepared remarks, Ripken's only stumble came when he addressed his kids, Ryan and Rachel, and then again when he mentioned Kelly. These were the moments he had prepared for throughout the weeks before the ceremony. "I changed my wording so that it wouldn't be so emotional," he said later.
Though he navigated the passage about his father, Cal Sr. -- the former Orioles manager and coach who died during spring training of 1999 -- and warmly told his mother, Vi, that he loved her, he stumbled over that third hurdle.
"They bring me pride," Ripken said, addressing his children, and he stopped with a short burst of laugher, pulling away from the microphone. He composed himself and continued, "as they continue to grow and take on life's challenges."
When he came to address Kelly, he put a white flower in the pocket of his suit jacket, and told Ryan, "I might need a little help transporting this." His son, seated in the front row next to Kelly, then pulled an identical flower from his jacket and handed it to his mother.
At a time when slugging San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds sits just one home run away from tying the sport's most hallowed mark -- Hank Aaron's record of 755 career home runs -- Ripken and Gwynn's legacies have grown in the years since they retired in 2001, almost by default. The man pursuing Aaron's record has a churlish personality -- unlike the ebullient Gwynn and the workmanlike Ripken -- and his pursuit comes under the cloud of accusations that he used steroids.
After the ceremony was over, Ripken and Gwynn were asked what they thought of the convergence of such events, Bonds's chase and their induction. Gwynn paused a moment.
"What a great day today," he said, and he smiled. "Seventy-five thousand people. Unbelievable."
Ripken, seated to Gwynn's right, put his hand on his face and laughed.
"It is a great celebration of baseball," Ripken said. "We should take a step back from the controversy. . . . Maybe we'll go back to reality tomorrow."
In 2001, it appeared certain that another man, former St. Louis Cardinal Mark McGwire, would join the pair on the dais this year, because he slugged 583 homers and set what was then the single-season mark of 70, in 1998. But in 2005, McGwire sat before a Congressional committee and refused to answer questions about whether he used steroids.
While Ripken built a network of youth baseball leagues and Gwynn has taken to coaching at his alma mater, San Diego State, McGwire rarely appears in public. He received less than 25 percent of the vote in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Seventy-five percent is required for election. Ripken, who won two American League Most Valuable Player awards, and Gwynn, who won eight National League batting titles, appeared on nearly 99 and 98 percent of the ballots, respectively.
With that backdrop, both men avoided the dark side of the game in their speeches, sticking instead to the values they believe put them in the Hall.
"We make a big deal about work ethic," said Gwynn, who hit better than .300 in 19 consecutive seasons. "We make a big deal about doing things right. And you know what? We're supposed to. . . . You got to make good decisions and show people how things are supposed to be done."
Which is what both men did in their careers. Gwynn's plaque in the Hall, installed Sunday evening, described him as an "artisan." Ripken's said he "arrived at the ballpark every day with a burning desire to perform at the highest level."
The crowd, strewn with Orioles fans clad in black-and-orange, ran to the back edge of the enormous field where the ceremony is held, acres of Ripken and Gwynn fans on hand. They cheered wildly when former Orioles Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Earl Weaver -- Hall of Famers, all -- were introduced. They held signs for Ripken, ranging from the simple ("You're my hero, Cal") to the sycophantic ("I named my son after you, Cal").
And after Gwynn's off-the-cuff, 28-minute, linear account of his playing career, they cheered for Ripken, who looked out over the field before he started his speech. He began with a story about teaching a 10-year-old boy baseball recently. After they went over the swing, the boy asked Ripken if he had played the game. Ripken said he did, in fact in the majors for 21 years -- holding close to the vest the fact he didn't miss a game for more than 16 straight seasons. The boy wondered for what team he played, what position. Finally sated, the boy walked away, and then turned around.
"Should I know you?" Ripken said the boy asked.
"That certainly puts all this in perspective," Ripken said.
Thus, Ripken tried to keep that perspective in his speech. He first thanked his teammates, starting with Murray, with whom he won a World Series in 1983. He mentioned only a scant few others from his background. Jimmy Williams, a minor league manager. Richie Bancells, the Orioles' athletic trainer from the first day of Ripken's career to his last. Former Oriole outfielder Brady Anderson, who he referred to as "simply my best friend." And another long-ago Oriole, John "T-Bone" Shelby, with whom Ripken shared struggles as he made his way through the minor leagues.
Ripken also dismissed the idea that his induction into the Hall was the culmination of his career. "I am a believer that such milestones create new opportunities," he said.
"I knew he would be very prepared, that it would be very well thought-out, and I knew he would try to touch on a lot of topics that are important to him," said former Oriole B.J. Surhoff, one of a slew of old Ripken teammates on hand. "It was very, very good."
Baseball, Ripken said, had given him a platform to touch on other subjects. Sunday, with the sport's ultimate platform before him, the "Iron Man" broke down, collected himself, and delivered a message not only about his place in the game, but, more subtly, how others should handle their places, too.
"We are the ambassadors for the future," Ripken said. "We should all try to make this world a better place for the next generation."