Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Heroes To The Hall

Originally posted to on January 12, 2007

Cooperstown made room for its two newest members this past Tuesday. Cal Ripken Jr., the consummate professional, and Tony Gwynn, the best pure hitter of last half century, join the great fraternity of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Ripken was an underrated hitter who tallied 431 homeruns, 1,695 RBI and batted a career .276. The Iron Man was a 19-time All-Star who played in 2,632 consecutive games and basically revolutionized the position of shortstop. Gwynn, a 15-time All-Star who collected 3,141 career hits, was the greatest wielder of a Louisville Slugger that I have seen in my lifetime. He hit .300 or better in 19 straight seasons including seven seasons where he hit over .350.

I watched Ripken and Gwynn play in their primes. I don’t remember watching a Mid-Summer Classic when I was a kid where they weren’t in the starting lineup. The unfortunate thing for me is that I took these guys for granted as “decent players.” The really unfortunate thing is that the 10-year olds hitting the sandlots today won’t get a chance to see these guys play baseball.

It wasn’t the stats that made them worth watching though. It was how they played the game. Ripken played in 2,632 straight games. Think about that. Consider yourself not missing a day at the office for the next 20 years. Kids, you wouldn’t be allowed to miss a day of school. Period. There are stories of how Gwynn taped and studied his own swing for years. Tweaking it. Improving it. Perfecting it. Both of these guys had work ethics that were unmatched by their peers yet they played the game with a boyish enthusiasm.

One of my favorite parts of their resumes is there off-the-field stories: this part of the resume is relatively empty. Neither one was a drug-user or beat his wife. Neither had run-ins with the media or shouted profanities at fans. Terrell Owens has spent more time on SportsCenter over the past year (for his off-the-field tirades) than either of them did in their entire careers. They are both great family men and have each started successful youth-driven charitable foundations. But that’s not really “news-worthy” to a lot today’s sports media.

In an era plagued with steroid and drug allegations, it’s hard to find players that we can look up to. I hope that today’s youth will stop for a few seconds and study their history books (although it isn’t ancient history) and learn about these two players. If there is anyone out there that they should try to emulate, it’s these two. I know that one day I’ll tell my kids how great these guys were in their playing days. I hope that you will too.

Congratulations, Cal and Tony!

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