Hall of Fame welcomes two class acts
Ripken, Gwynn inducted into Cooperstown's hallowed walls
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. were enshrined on a hot and glorious Sunday afternoon before, by far, the largest crowd in the history of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and those who made the pilgrimage were treated to emotional speeches that were characteristically highlighted by two heroes' thoughts on hard work and responsibility as professional athletes.
This was the moment that an estimated 75,000 people had been waiting for, perhaps the most-anticipated induction ceremony on record. Two role models who spent their entire careers with the same club. Coming on the heels of Saturday's record for the most-attended day in Major League Baseball history and with more Hall of Famers gathered in one place than ever before, it was just indescribably perfect.
"I'm a big believer in whatever you want, if you want something out of this game, you've got to put the work in it. You've got to work hard," said Gwynn, whose new plaque, presented by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, described him as "Mr. Padre" and "an artisan with a bat whose daily pursuit of excellence produced a .338 lifetime batting average, 3,141 hits and an NL-tying 8 batting titles."
"My father said, 'If you work hard, good things will happen,'" Gwynn said. "Boy, oh boy, he was absolutely right. I worked hard in this game, because I had to. I wasn't talented enough to get by just on ability. I really had to work at it. I had to do the video stuff, go about my business and do things the way I did. We make a big deal about work ethic ... about trying to make good decisions and doing things right, and you know what, that's what we're supposed to do.
"When you sign your name on the dotted line, there's more than just playing the game of baseball. I think if you look out here today, you see all these people out here today, they love the game, too. ... Those people who pay to watch you go out and play, you got to be responsible and make decisions and show people how things are supposed to be done."
Ripken showed that as well, and on this day, he addressed a sea of largely Orioles orange-and-black-clad fans who couldn't wait to see him finally take his place among the living legends. The player who redefined the shortstop position (standing 6-foot-5) and shattered Lou Gehrig's "unbreakable" streak of 2,130 consecutive games played (finishing with an unthinkable 2,632) spoke at length about making a difference in the world and setting an example for others, especially children.
"Whether you like it or not, as big leaguers, we are role models," Ripken said, then pausing as a loud ovation arose on the hilly fields. "The only question is, will it be positive or will it be negative? Should we put players up on a pedestal and make them take responsibility? No. But we should encourage them to use their influence positively, to help build up and develop the young people who follow the game.
"Sports can play a big role in teaching values and principles. It can be a huge developmental tool for life. Just think, teamwork, leadership, work ethic and trust are all part of the game and are also all factors in how we make the most of our lives. So an essential part of the job of every player and of all people for that matter is to help the young people of today learn these lessons, so they can live better lives tomorrow.
Gwynn and Ripken were first-ballot inductees in the vote last December by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. It was a same-team induction theme across the board, because the Ford C. Frick and J.G. Taylor Spink Awards were each presented to men who also have worked in Major League Baseball for the same club their whole careers. Denny Matthews, the longtime radio voice of the Kansas City Royals, was presented the Frick Award. Hummel, the longtime baseball writer and columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, goes into the writers' wing of the Museum as the Spink recipient.
The order of presentation was changed this year, because it had rained much of this weekend (not dampening a single moment), and there was a 25 percent chance of rain in the forecast. So whereas the journalists are generally introduced first, this time, Gwynn and Ripken began the proceedings, followed by Matthews and Hummel.
"Today, you're seeing something that won't happen again," Hummel said. "Two players who had more than 3,000 hits and played on the same team their whole careers go in on the same day."
This whole weekend has been like watching Gwynn slap singles through the "5.5 hole" (between third and shortstop) that he made famous or like watching Ripken suit up for yet another game. It's a heady time to be a baseball fan. And if there are more Gwynns and Ripkens on the horizon, then you know that the national pastime is in good and steady hands.
Gwynn told many stories, including a career-transforming exchange with Ted Williams at the 1992 All-Star Game, when the Splendid Splinter persuaded him to become more of a power hitter instead of a slasher. Gwynn's father had always talked about Williams and Jackie Robinson, Gwynn said, and they grew up with Williams' book, "The Science of Hitting."
Gwynn said he had a bat in his hand the first time that he met that legend, and Williams told him, "Hey, Tony, how you doing? Give me your bat."
Gwynn said Williams "started picking his teeth with it. And if you're worth your salt as a hitter, your mind starts to race, it starts to tick and Ted really made me do it -- he made me think about the art of hitting a baseball.
"I've got to tell you, he was a great man, but he was ornery when it came to hitting a baseball, and I used to ask him, 'Ted, you've got four guys on the right side of the field, why wouldn't you hit the ball the other way?' 'I wasn't going to let those guys beat me!' And that stubbornness, that feistiness, I think kind of rubbed off on me, and from that point in 1992 to the end of my career, as far as I'm concerned, I was a much better hitter. I've never been a home run guy, never been a big RBI guy, but from that point to the end of my career, I was much better at it."
The ceremony was attended by 55 of the 63 living Hall of Famers, including Ripken and Gwynn. That signaled the largest collection of Hall of Famers in one place at any time in history. The record for Hall returnees had been 50 in 2004. Fans who made the trip this time probably got more than their money's worth, as there have been legends at seemingly every turn the past few days.
Most were here for Ripken, and he didn't let them down. In thanking people at the start of his speech, he said, "And then there are the fans of baseball. And in particular, the people of Baltimore -- who cheered my successes and stood by me when things weren't going so well. Where would any of us be without the people who love their teams no matter what and even make long trips for events like this.
"I know some of you look back at the streak as an accomplishment, and while I appreciate it, I just look at it as showing up to do your work every day. Teachers, mothers, fathers, businesspeople, many others. You all may not receive the accolades that I did through my career. So I'd like to salute you all for showing up, working hard and making the world a better place. Thank you all."
For someone known for his consistency and even-keel tenacity, Ripken probably surprised some of his longtime followers when he broke up a couple of times in his speech, including one very long pause to compose himself. There was a loud chorus of "Awwwww" whenever that happened.
Ripken talked about "playing the game the right way," the "Cal Senior Way," and how much his late father and former manager, Cal Ripken Sr., meant to him. Then, the new Hall of Famer's voice cracked when he said, "Mom. The words are hard to find to show you how much I love you back."
Ripken discussed his sisters and brothers, including former Major Leaguer Billy Ripken, and then he began to really struggle when he got to his kids. He named Rachel and Ryan, and in mid-sentence, he had to stop, choke up and then resume by saying, "They continue to bring me pride as they continue to grow and meet life's challenges. I'm so proud to stand here today and tell them how much I love and care for them."
The same goes for his wife, Kelly.
He fought back tears as he said, "She didn't know anything about baseball or me when we first met, but she has learned and stood by me and supported me throughout our years together. Kelly, I hope you know how much I appreciate your love and your always being there for me. I love you and I thank you."
Then, Ripken pulled out a flower, and said, "Ryan, I might need a little help transporting this." At that moment, his son pulled the same type of flower out of his jacket and handed it to his mother, again shown to fans on the giant screens so everyone knew what was happening.
Ripken was asked in the press conference afterward how he came up with the flower idea.
"I just came up with the idea," Ripken said. "I didn't think I could say the words. When I proposed, I made a sign. I made it out of Christmas lights, and it said, 'Will you marry me?' I didn't think I could say the words to do that, either. I thought of Ryan. We both had sport coats on; it would make for a nice little moment. I had the idea, and the only question was whether I'd be able to get through it, and we did."
The previous attendance record for an induction ceremony had been 50,000 -- set in 1999 (Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount and George Brett) -- and Hall officials were expecting at least that much based on booming ticket sales at the museum. There were 14,000 visitors on Saturday, a record for a single day in the 68-year history of the facility -- far exceeding the 9,500 set in '95. Friday and Saturday brought a combined 20,000 attendees, and as early as Friday, merchants along Main Street were reporting unprecedented business.
One Hall official noted, "The entire state of Maryland is here."
Although it has been predominantly an Orioles crowd by geographic nature, the Padres representation was equally impressive considering the distance factor. Seeing Ripken and Gwynn fans interacting and celebrating each other's inductee has been a beautiful thing since early Friday, and this sign in the densely packed field said it all: "Tony and Cal: A Class Act."
When that sign was shown on the giant screens that were set up here at the modern Woodstock, it provoked a loud applause an hour before the ceremony. Then a roving interviewer went to talk to fans near that sign, and one man -- who flew from San Diego into Binghamton, N.Y., and drove to Cooperstown -- caused another big stir when he said, "We want to thank these two guys for playing their whole careers in the same city. Forget this free-agency stuff. Go Padres and go Orioles!" The fans roared.
Gwynn spent 20 years with the Padres; Ripken played 21 years with the Orioles. Each retired after the 2001 season and was elected by the BBWAA in his first year of eligibility. Their fans waited a long time for this, and it was well worth the wait. As the masses slowly began to leave Cooperstown, some stayed around to see the two new plaques in the gallery.
Perhaps Ripken summarized the whole weekend the best.
"This day and all that it represents shouldn't be just about us or even about all these great Hall of Famers up here," Ripken said. "Today is about celebrating the best that baseball has been and the best it can be."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.