For many years, Cal Ripken has been dubbed the Iron Man and known for his 2,632 consecutive game streak. He also has been known as baseball's good and decent man, praised for signing more autographs, shaking more hands and having more actual conversations with fans than some entire major league teams. In the past few years, as he has grayed and balded with dignity, switched to third base and had back surgery, as though to prove he is not bionic after all, Ripken has even become the venerable symbol of the game for many.
Cal has put up with all of this with enormous good grace and that gentle bemused smile that seems too detached to belong to an athlete. Because he was too grateful for his luck and his gifts, and because he is too modest to say how he would really like to be remembered, Ripken has remained silent on one subject. Instead, he has let his mountain of accumulating deeds -- most recently his 400th home run last September and his 3,000th hit on Saturday -- speak for him.
Many of Ripken's best traits were on display again Saturday. In his big moment, he managed to blend a confident stage presence with an appealing humility. He enjoyed the moment, but didn't milk it. With first-base coach Eddie Murray at hand, Ripken had an old 3,000-hit teammate and career-long buddy to share the first hug. The first Oriole bounding out of the dugout to shake Cal's hand was a large fellow with a grin worthy of a 12-year-old on his face -- Albert Belle. Ripken tends to see the best in others and, in turn, that often brings out the best in them.
Finally, Ripken's mother, Vi, congratulated him by phone in a live TV interview.
''Hi, hon. What's new? . . . (At least) you could have shaved for the cameras, (couldn't you)?''
''The way I was going I didn't think I'd get it tonight.''
''(Announcer) Mike Flanagan alluded that you hit this at 8:07 (p.m. Central Time). Now, is that prophetic or what?''
''I know,'' said Ripken, immediately picking up his mother's meaning. ''Eight and seven. My (number) and pop's. . . . I was thinking about you, Mom. I love you.''
''I love you.''
Well, we don't do this kind of stuff much anymore. Or we don't do it very well. But the Ripkens still do. It looks just right on them. Perhaps it's natural that a fellow from such a family would forget to mention, in his last thousand interviews or so, that maybe 400 homers and 3,000 hits -- with more to come -- stands for more than longevity. That's OK They rest of us can start doing it now.
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