Vol. 9, No. 41
October 11-17, 2001
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Cal’s Last Swing

Amid the gushing good-byes and the bobble-head dolls, Cal Ripken left a truth or two behind when he walked off the diamond for the final time last weekend.

It was our baseball icon’s last game, the final time we will see a billed cap on his graying, stubbled pate until, perhaps, an old-timer’s game sometime hence.

The sports writers have told us how never again will a player in any major sport spend an entire career on one team. We’ve read how Ripken is the personification of loyalty, how his Iron Man odyssey of playing 15 years without missing a game never will be matched.

We’re told that he slugged 431 home runs while playing in 3,001 games in over 20 years and that he single-handedly saved baseball.

All that is true. But the connection between Cal Ripken and people runs deeper than statistics. Playing all those games day after day for all those years, Ripken provided a beacon that shone above the crushing shore of everyday routine.

“If Cal can make it to work every day, I can, too,” was the take-home message of the Ripken years.

Just about everybody has thought from time to time, “take this job and shove it!”

Do you think Cal had that feeling when the Orioles fired his father, Cal Sr., as manager of the team a few years back after a run of bad luck?

Sure he did, but he took all things into account, like the calculus we might perform, and in the end he decided not to risk a pretty good thing.

We’re not saying that all of us will gain Iron Man or Iron Woman immortality in our walks of life. But some of us will because we stuck it out.

Nor are we saying that everything about Ripken was great. A lot about Ripken the ballplayer was ordinary (his lifetime batting average was about 50 points lower than Tony Gwinn’s, who retired last weekend with less fanfare.

We’re also told that as a person, Ripken could be petty, just like you or me. That’s why, insiders say, that Ripken gave the story on his decision to retire to the Washington Post, rather than the more aggressive Baltimore Sun, his hometown paper.

Yet Ripken’s foibles, his normalcy, make him more endearing to us than, say, Joe DiMaggio, the touch-me-not Mr. Perfect. Slogging to work every day, handling bad times, a bad back, even breaking his nose in the dugout before an All-Star Game, Ripken showed how much he was like the rest of us.

It was like that last Saturday night when, in his last at bat, he made an out. And when, in the last inning with fans cheering him, the game ended with Cal Ripken in the on-deck circle, cheated out of one final moment in the sun.

For mere mortals like us, it was an ending to cheer.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly