Ripken honored by Hall selection
Iron Man exudes humility during Baltimore press conference
BALTIMORE -- The Hall of Fame cap was still brand new, unbent and pristine when Cal Ripken Jr. placed it on his head. Hours after learning of his election to Cooperstown, the Orioles legend peered out at the assembled cameras and issued a telling comment disguised as a quip.
"Hey, that fits," he said.Indeed it does. Ripken took off the hat shortly after the photo opportunity and started discussing his impending induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, an institution he's admired for his entire life. Seated on a raised dais with his wife and children flanking him, Ripken broke down exactly what the honor meant to him. "I loved what I did. I loved playing and every minute of being a ballplayer," he said, summing up his emotions. "I had a dream a long time ago of being a ballplayer, so in many ways, it's just a continuation and a celebration of that dream I was able to live. I feel good about it. It's a wonderful honor to be included with the game's best players. "And it still kind of goes back to the question I was asked when I [retired], 'How do you want to be remembered as a ballplayer?' Whether it's the streak, or so many hits, or all that. I still remember thinking, 'To be remembered at all in the context of what you do is pretty special.' And I still feel that way." Ripken won't be forgotten for quite some time -- in his home state or anywhere else. The former shortstop was elected to the Hall of Fame by the third-highest percentage (98.53), trailing only Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan. And he'll be inducted with San Diego's Tony Gwynn, who played his entire career for one team, just like Ripken. That association wasn't lost on Ripken, who said the honor meant even more in light of his company. "I know that they honor individuals in the Hall of Fame, and I'm one of those individuals," he said. "But each and every year, it's a celebration of the sport, just as the All-Star Game is in the middle of the summer. ... I hope the celebration is the biggest, and I happen to think the game is the best. I feel very thankful that I'm going in with Tony Gwynn. "It's especially gratifying to me to see Tony, who played with one team his whole career and put in the work, the energy and the effort to make himself better. He's celebrating the honor of being inducted at the same time. I hope it is the biggest celebration ever -- for the sake of baseball, not necessarily for me." Ripken hit all the high points in his press conference, fielding questions about his World Series triumph and his seemingly unbreakable record of 2,632 consecutive games. The 19-time All-Star and two-time MVP answered all of the questions in his polished media-friendly manner, but he went out of his way dodge the individual spotlight.
First, there was the choice to be interviewed alongside his family, who bore silent witness except for one question directed toward them. Then there were the constant references to Gwynn, and the reverence he showed toward the game's living Hall of Famers. Ripken referenced former teammate Eddie Murray more than once and said he'll always remember the stoic first baseman's induction into the Hall of Fame."I know that when Eddie Murray was inducted, I had the privilege of being in the audience. When the Hall of Famers came out behind him, it's a very magical sort of feeling," he said. "It's hard to describe what it is, but there's a presence about the game of baseball. It's ghostly in some ways, and it really moves you when you're there. "I don't know how it's going to feel to be on that team, but I'll let you know later this summer." Of course, no Ripken event would be complete without a mention of his mentor and namesake, Cal Ripken Sr., who spent more than 30 seasons as a player, coach and manager in the Baltimore organization. Ripken noted that his father, who passed away in 1999, is with him in spirit in virtually everything he does. "I guess the way I would say it is that Dad died some time ago, but he's continued to be with us in all the things that we try to do with kids and celebrating the game," he said. "Dad might not be here physically, but he certainly is sharing in this moment." Ripken stressed that he hasn't been thinking about this day for the last five seasons, and he also maintained that he never thought it was a certainty that he'd be elected. There was a mixture of euphoria and relief when he finally got the phone call, and his family said he's been the same person around the house for the last few weeks. "That's one thing about Cal: What you see is what you get," said Kelly Ripken, his wife. "Even though this is a really exciting day and a tremendous time for our family, he's still the same guy. And he still has to pick up his socks, like anybody else." "I just see him as my dad. Nothing new," added Ryan Ripken, his son. "Just the same old guy." And that's exactly right. Ripken hasn't changed, although he has aged a bit. He still has the same unquenchable passion that he had in 1981, when he broke into the big leagues. Ripken may be retired from playing, but he'll never leave the game behind. "When you retire and you're away from the game for a while, you don't have the day-to-day making of new memories," he said. "You look back on the ones you have in your experience and you reflect a little bit more. In a sense, you sit in the rocking chair and you remember. Those moments are pretty powerful and you're very thankful for them."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.