Anticipated sellouts appropriate for one who never did sell out
By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer
Barely had Cal Ripken Jr. announced that this would be his final major league season and the "sold out" sign for his final game quickly went up at the Camden Yards ticket office.
Then, they raised it at Yankee Stadium ...
Soon, in a scene likely to be repeated from Seattle to Boston, it will be posted at parks all along his farewell tour.
Most fans will come just to be able to say they saw baseball's all-time Ironman, the remarkable one who rewrote the record that had been deemed untouchable. They will be there to say they glimpsed a legend in the flesh.
And that is altogether fitting.
For many, however, there is homage to be paid to Ripken's parting. Beyond the records, golden gloves and MVP awards, there will be a palpable sense that when Ripken leaves the stage, a curtain will also be descending on a fraternity that played the game with special passion and purpose.
Like Minnesota's Kirby Puckett who exited before him and San Diego's Tony Gwynn who should closely follow, the 40-year-old Ripken is among a thinning breed. He is a "throwback" player bestowed upon the modern age.
He is an unrepentant traditionalist, one baseball has come to view as heaven-sent for the way his breaking of Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played in 1995 took the edge off the rancorous '94 strike.
In transitory times when stars are here today and gone to the highest bidder tomorrow, you never needed a program to tell which team Ripken played with. For all of his 21 seasons and through 2,632 consecutive games played, Ripken has been an Oriole even when greener pastures beckoned. In good days and in Peter Angelos times, he gave it his all.
For Ripken is a rare player in the free agent age who exemplifies what being a major leaguer is supposed to be all about. Whether it was making the routine plays or sticking around to sign autographs afterward, Ripken has been a poster player for "big league."
Whether it was the unyielding way he ran out ground balls or the pride he took in getting his uniform dirty to make a double play or break one up, Ripken has been the kind of example of how to play the game that parents used as an example to children and coaches offered up to younger players.
You never caught him standing at home plate in a prolonged look-at-me pose after hitting a home run, though among his 421 blasts there were certainly some worth lingering over.
Nor did his respect for the game ever seem forced. It came to him as instinctively as knowing where to shade hitters or when the curveball was coming.
Small wonder so many want one last glimpse of all he brought to baseball.