Ripken embodies everything baseball could be
By Peter Gammons
BALTIMORE--He said it by stepping out of the dugout, time after time after time, and sharing the private moments that a good man experiences with his son, daughter and wife.
"This isn't my moment," Cal Ripken seemed to shout to everyone watching out there. "It is our moment."
He said it stopping and speaking with the grounds crew and security men as he made his victory lap, and by high-fiving Gary DiSarcina and embracing Chili Davis. He said it during batting practice, when a forgettable pitching lifer named Dave Johnson, whose Warholian moment came with the 1990 Orioles, was watching from the stands and Ripken found the time to run over and shake his hand.
And he said it up and down the dugout, sharing with his teammates while he saw tears in their eyes. People cried in other ballparks. People who cared for baseball cried all over the nation.
Most of us believed that this would be just a nice moment, however predictable, but it was one of the rare times when reality not only exceeded expectation, it blew it away. No, it didnt have the shocking, heart-stopping drama of Bobby Thomson, Carlton Fisk, Kirk Gibson or Joe Carter, or quite the place in history of Henry Aaron or Pete Rose. But somehow those who were there will never forget that feeling of sharing with friends or fellow workers, and with Ripken himself.
Now we can only hope that it wasnt lost on Bud Selig and Don Fehr. Baseball's resiliency is beyond our wildest imagination. At its lowest ebb, a year after the 1919 Black Sox scandal, along came Babe Ruth to save the game. Now, in 1995, while baseball has been trying to dig out of what might be its second-deepest crater, along comes Ripken.
Ripken is a hero in the sense that Charles Lindbergh was a hero, a man whom President Clinton respectfully wanted to see because he is what he is, a man his daughter Chelsea wanted to meet because Ripken drives his daughter to school.
Ripken isnt Deion Sanders, a narcissistic exhibitionist who sat out that same day with headaches caused by his football negotiations. Ripken honors his commitments. Hes modest and he has the grinding attention span to perform every day, which is why Ripken is a great baseball player and Sanders never has exceeded mediocrity.
Ripken represents, by his commitments, by his values, by his family and by his willingness to share his real riches, what this country is about. Ripken made Americans from Clinton to Butch the clubhouse kid feel as they never had felt before.
Ripken hoisted baseball high above his head. Selig, who sat in the press box and was genuinely touched by the 22-minute celebration, must convince his fellow owners that this is what the game is about. Baseball isnt Wal-Mart.
Fehr, who annoyed many of the young Angels players with a pregame union meeting, also must grasp the moment. When they resume talks soon, they should keep quiet, get it done and not spoil Ripkens accomplishment.
Ripken never claimed to be the greatest anything. He simply proved that hes responsible, reliable and respectful. He doesn't have to lecture, politic and preach about the American family. He is the American family.
He could have looked out at the self-absorbed society around him and made it all his Instead, he took the shirt off his back and handed it to his son, turned and effectively told millions upon millions of teammates, friends and strangers the moment belonged to everyone. To some of us who have spent more than a quarter-century in baseball, he made it the warmest ballpark experience of our lives.
AND ANOTHER THING . . .
Five reasons to appreciate Cal Ripken, all coming forth the week before and after he broke Lou Gehrigs record:
1. The Mets Jeff Kent pulled a hamstring during a home run trot and had to leave the game.
2. Baltimores Mark Smith saw his consecutive-game streak cut short at seven when he thought the air conditioner in his hotel room was making a funny sound, reached in and severely cut his finger in the fan.
3. Cincinnatis Johnny Ruffin was unavailable to pitch when he sat down on a couch in the players' lounge to watch television and his knee popped out of joint.
4. Milwaukees Jose Valentin missed a game after cutting his hand on a pineapple.
5. Floridas Randy Veres had to go on the disabled list with an injured hand, which he hurt pounding on his hotel-room wall trying to get the people in the next room to be quiet.
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