For Cal Ripken Sr., working hard was career-long...

BASEBALL

October 18, 1992|By JIM HENNEMAN

For Cal Ripken Sr., working hard was career-long obsession

He has been called cantankerous and/or stubborn -- and sometimes they were the kindest words people would mutter.

He has a volatile side that can make Earl Weaver seem like an altar boy.

He was student and teacher, cut-up and disciplinarian.

Umpires made no attempt to hide the fact they had no use for him -- and, in return, he made no effort to disguise the fact that the feeling was mutual.

He is many things to many people, maybe not all of them nice -- but that is the case a whole lot more than his adversaries would have you believe. He lives inside a gruff exterior, but he also has an inner gentleness seen by only a few outside his family.

There are a lot of things, pro and con, that can be said about him -- but there is one thing so absolutely true that it could be chiseled in the brick of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Cal Ripken Sr. worked harder at his job than anybody who has ever worn the uniform of the Baltimore Orioles. Period. End of discussion.

Nobody, not even Cal Ripken Jr., whose dedication is a constant source of amazement to his peers, approaches his job with more diligence or tenacity. Cal Jr., like his brothers and sister, did not come by his work ethic accidentally.

There are countless stories told about Cal Ripken Sr., most of them dealing with the obsession he brought to his profession. Some are humorous; some tell a story about the man.

Normally, I prefer not to get personal, but this will be an exception. Which is only natural because, by whatever rules you choose to measure the man, Cal Ripken Sr. is an exception.

As a manager of what was then a Class C team in Aberdeen, (where, among others, he tutored Jim Palmer and Mark Belanger), Ripken took over as driver of the team bus and earned a few extra dollars each month. He most likely would say he did it because he was a better driver, not for the money, and it wouldn't be worth arguing about.

He once took a line drive flush on the cheekbone while pitching batting practice and hardly flinched, let alone missed any time from work. The next day you could hardly see a bruise.

By my estimate, which almost certainly is conservative, Ripken threw at least 25,000 pitches in batting practice every season and about 10,000 more during spring training. Using a crooked, sidearm, slingshot delivery, his arm looked the same on the first day of spring training as it did on the last day of the season -- as if it were ready to fall off.

He would tell you, maybe even convince you, that he never had a sore arm. But then, nobody's claiming here that Ripken didn't sometimes color the truth.

For whatever the reason, Ripken will no longer be wearing the Orioles uniform he wore for 35 of the 36 years he spent in the organization. He conceivably could even end up in another organization -- one of the expansion teams would be especially wise to use his organizational and teaching skills.

For years, Ripken insisted that his two baseball-playing sons, Cal Jr. and Bill, were no different to him than any of the other players. As much as I wanted to, I never believed him.

But if he was right, and I know what he would say, then I hope he can now enjoy watching them as a father. He deserves at least that much.

We often disagreed -- given the personalities involved, it wasn't difficult -- and he often had disagreements with the media. But, at least from this end, Ripken and I always had a great association, maybe because he's almost as old.

He may not have always been the model of decorum, and he may have gone with a broken heart, but he left the Orioles with a legacy.

"Practice doesn't make perfect," he said more than once. "Perfect practice makes perfect."

He might have added that hard workers survive, and survivors work hard. That's what Cal Ripken Sr. is all about.

I'm going to miss the crusty old *$%&! -- and I don't care if he likes it or not. I suspect there are more than a few others.

It was fun while it lasted, but it really is time to lay to rest all of the "Blow Jays" jokes. Few, if any, organizations in baseball history have achieved the level of excellence in such a short time as have the Toronto Blue Jays.

Yes, they did blow a 3-1 lead to the Kansas City Royals in the 1985 American League Championship Series. And they did get overtaken by the Detroit Tigers in the final week of the 1987 season.

It should be noted, however, that 1985 was the ninth year of existence for the Blue Jays. Two years later, they played the Tigers seven times in the last 10 games -- each decided by one run (they won the first three and lost the last four) -- without shortstop Tony Fernandez or catcher Ernie Whitt.

The Blue Jays have been legitimate contenders for the past eight years, a claim no other team can even imagine, and have won four division championships.

The "C" word? Enough already.

Perception isn't reality

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