He epitomized grit and determination. He epitomized the value of preparation. He epitomized the potent mixture of pure athleticism and hard work to maximize natural talent. He epitomized respect for the fans.
Of course, I’m talking about Cal Ripken, Jr., the Baltimore Orioles phenom who broke on September 6, 1995 the long-held record of 2,130 consecutive games played by a Major League Baseball (MLB) player by adding “1” to a milestone that many thought would never be surpassed.
He and the baseball world celebrated nine days ago the 25th anniversary of a record that likely will go unbroken. In an era of specialization and multi-millionaire ballplayers fearful of career-ending injuries, longevity is not necessarily an aspiration.
When he played his 2,131st game on Sept. 3 against the California Angels at Oriole Park at Camden Yards near downtown Baltimore, Ripken replaced the legendary New York Yankee, Lou Gehrig, as baseball’s heralded “iron man.”
He played 501 additional games after his mountain-top experience.
In reading the recent tributes to Ripken and his memories of an unprecedented achievement, I was reminded of a constant drizzle of criticism during “The Streak”: Cal was being selfish not to sit out games when he was injured and presumably unable to contribute fully to the team’s performance.
When I heard the criticism then and ponder it now, my reaction is still the same. Hogwash.
Ripken instilled in the game a steadfast commitment to working every day to help his team, to forgo days off for plying his trade and earning his salary in an honest, dignified manner.
He expected much of himself. Perhaps his teammates were equally conscientious because of the example he set. Maybe not. They may have considered him an unusual force of nature.
The former shortstop converted into a third-baseman is now 60-years-old. He lives in the same community in Annapolis as my daughter and family. His second wife is a circuit court judge in Anne Arundel County.
Cal Ripken has always been a gentleman who treats fans with down-to-earth humility. He’s easily likable and approachable.
My grandchildren could care less about this large man prowling the neighborhood with his dog. My daughter and son-in-law, however, remain in awe of this MLB Hall of Famer. So do I.
Some months ago, my son-in-law was installing a make-shift tree swing for his son and daughter. The challenge, of course, entailed tossing the rope over the high limb. As my son-in-law was hurling the rope over the limb, the Ripkens walked by. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, my son-in-law asked Cal Ripken if he would like to toss the rope (with a ball attached). He immediately said yes. His wife said no, either trying to preserve her husband’s arm or his pride
Aloofness has never been part of Ripken’s personality. A native of Aberdeen, Maryland, he’s always handled his fame with modesty and poise.
The 25th anniversary of Cal Ripken’s singular accomplishment, garnered after 13 years in the major leagues, brought back wonderful memories of the night that this remarkable athlete captivated 46,000 fans in the stands and millions watching on TV. His jog around the perimeter of the ballfield was magical. He didn’t want to do it; his teammates prodded and pushed him to do it
Not all anniversaries are joyful. Some remind us of horrendous events. That wasn’t true on Sept. 6, 2020.
Though Cal Ripken may not be a hero, he represents an ideal. Hard work and single-mindedness in the presence of injuries and criticism are undeniable virtues.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.