Ripken Reflects on Career
NEW YORK -- Cal Ripken Jr. is content. His playing career is a matter of record. He would not want to change a thing.
Wednesday's press conference at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel began nearly 24 hours after Ripken was notified of his election to the Hall of Fame, which ignited a fire of memories within his brain.
"I've been reflecting on so many things," Ripken said. "A discussion came up wondering about how many Hall of Famers would actually turn back the clock and do it all over again -- go back to where players start now in the Rookie Development Program at 21 years old. You think about how you love the game and maybe relive those memories one more time. My answer would be, 'Absolutely not.' I had a wonderful, wonderful time. I fulfilled a dream; in many ways, it was a storybook-type career."
Ripken came out of a baseball family and brought his father's old-school approach to the modern game, while at the same time during his years as a shortstop helped redefine the position's offense potential, as well as opening it up to players of his size (6-foot-4).
It is a lot to happen in a career, which easily explains why he was elected to the Hall on Tuesday with a record total of 537 votes out of 545 ballots cast by Baseball Writers' Association of America 10-year members. At the press conference, Ripken made frequent reference to his father, who died in 1999, perhaps most pointedly after placing a Hall of Fame cap on his head.
Asked how his father might have reacted, Ripken said, "My dad would probably say, 'Make sure your hat's on straight and don't bend the brim.'"
Respect for the game and attention to detail are conveyed in that message. The baseball lifer's son took it to heart and will carry it to Cooperstown, where Ripken will be inducted July 29 alongside Tony Gwynn.
"My dad wasn't one to offer up a lot of praise and a lot of emotion," Ripken said. "He held it all up inside, but you could tell in his eyes that he was very proud of me. I lost my dad about eight years ago. What I've learned is that personally he is gone, then you realize very quickly that he is with you every step of the way. So I know he's proud, and I'll be thinking about him a lot during this process.
"I'm overjoyed and overwhelmed at being elected to the Hall of Fame, and a little bit relieved at this point. Looking back over your career, you remember all the people who gave you the opportunity to be here. I thought about my dad a lot lately and his influence on my life. It ought to be a fun journey, a fun ride. The Hall of Fame does a very good job of celebrating baseball, and I look forward to being a small part of that."
For parts of two seasons, Cal Ripken Sr. was one of the Orioles managers who wrote Cal Ripken Jr.'s name down daily in the lineup card. It was those men, Cal Jr. contends, most responsible for the consecutive-game streak of 2,632 games, the crowning achievement of his remarkable 21-season career. It was Ripken who chose to end it, but managers who kept it going.
Another important figure was longtime teammate Eddie Murray, with whom Ripken will be reunited at the Hall of Fame.
"Eddie Murray was the guy that embraced me when I came to the big leagues, made me feel comfortable, made me part of a Major League team," Ripken said. "He was the one that led by example. He didn't do it with words. He used words from time to time, but he did it by his actions and showed the importance of being out there each and every day.
"The first 1,000 games went pretty quickly. It was probably when it got close to the National League record [Steve Garvey's 1,207] where it started to receive some scrutiny. About 1,800 games in, we were losing, and there was a lot of finger-pointing going around, but I tried to maintain my simple approach. I endured that, and it became a very popular thing where I think everyone wanted to see me break the record. That was the only time I felt an obligation to get to the finish line."
That was Sept. 6, 1995, when the streak reached 2,131, one more than the mark set in 1939 by Lou Gehrig that had for decades been considered unbreakable.
"My favorite moment in baseball was catching the last out of the World Series in 1983," Ripken said. "When I closed my hand around the ball, there was a sense of total satisfaction, of comfort, a feeling that came over me that is not equaled by anything else that happened to me in the game.
"But the best human moment of my life, the best personal moment of my life, was the lap around Camden Yards on Sept. 6, 1995, when Bobby [Bonilla] and Rafael Palmeiro pushed me down the sidelines. The outpouring of the fans went from a large group to one that was very individual. I started shaking people's hands, looking into their eyes and started recognizing people that had been there my whole career. It was such a wonderful trip around.
"When I first started, I said, 'Let me get this thing over with quickly so I can get the game resumed. It's unfair for the pitcher and the other players not to get to resume the game.' About a quarter of the way down the sideline, I didn't care if the game ever resumed again. I was enjoying the moment, a great moment, the whole California Angels team around celebrating with me and my teammates. I looked up in the stands to my dad, and a thousand words were flying through his eyes to me at that moment."
Ripken ended the streak Sept. 20, 1998, against the Yankees, the Orioles' last home game that season. He had originally intended to skip Game 162 at Boston and start fresh the next year, but his wife Kelly told him, "I understand what you're thinking, but these people here in Baltimore have watched you play and taken pride in you playing every day. If it's going to end, it should end in Baltimore."
And so it did, and one more celebration ensued.
"Ryan Minor was picked to play third base that day, and he wouldn't take the field because he thought it was a rookie prank," Ripken recalled. "I said, 'Ryan, it's OK.' A really cool thing happened with the Yankees when they realized what was going on. They collectively came to the top step of the dugout and gave me their own sort of standing ovation. That set off a chain reaction to the crowd. It became a celebration and not a sad way to end the streak. It was a fun and fitting end to it.
"I'm very proud of being able to play those games the way that I did, not because it was a big number, not because it was a record, but because it's how players should approach the game."
Ripken is an admitted pack rat who has a slew of memorabilia from his career. Yet among all the trophies and equipment, one is a special favorite: the glove he wore for most of the 1990 season when he committed only three errors.
"In the Metrodome one day, Kirby Puckett hit a two-hopper that had a lot of spin on it and spun out of the glove I was using and I got an error," he said. "I threw that glove down and picked up my backup gamer [glove] because I figured I'd have to have a looser glove when I was in the Metrodome. It just seemed that if I could put the leather on the ball, it would go into the pocket and stay there. I never broke in a glove as good as that one. I went through a nearly perfect season fielding-wise, which continues to amaze me. It made me think maybe there's a little magic in it. I consider it my stuffed animal."