Ripken gift to research shouldn't be overlooked

September 11, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

There's much more to Cal Ripken Jr. establishing baseball's new longevity streak than merely having his name placed ahead of Lou Gehrig in the cold-type pages of the record book. An immediate kinship has been formed that promises to be a continuing benefit to humanity, far exceeding the importance of the number of games either man played.

It's a momentous philanthropic arrangement that already has resulted in Ripken, by his catalyst actions, providing $2 million to Johns Hopkins Hospital with the hope a cure can be advanced for eliminating the baffling disease that proved fatal to Gehrig more than a half-century ago.

This becomes an enormous sports achievement and humane deed, all in one, that sets itself apart -- an athlete utilizing his own physical accomplishments to help those beset with the same illness that took Gehrig in 1941. There's ongoing medical research to determine how amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) can be treated successfully, eventually eliminated, and Ripken has a role.

The addition of 260 foul line seats, each selling for $5,000, on the occasion when Ripken went past Gehrig in epic game 2,131 resulted in raising $1.3 million for the cause. Then club owner Peter Angelos announced that he, along with his partners, would contribute another $700,000 to take the total to $2 million.

So Ripken, in going past Gehrig, deals with more than self-gratification. The public cheered his attainment on the field but, by this charitable action, some segment of that same public will benefit for what the funds might ultimately develop by ongoing laboratory study.

From an entirely different viewpoint, the Ripken speech was a masterful presentation that should have special significance for Angelos. Hopefully, he heard Cal say "I not only had dreams of being a big-league ballplayer, but also of being a Baltimore Oriole." Notice he didn't say just Oriole or Middle Atlantic marketing Oriole or any kind of other Oriole, which is why Baltimore should be returned to the Orioles logo and road uniforms.

Ripken wrote the speech with some minor input from friends, who helped him edit the text. Gehrig was the same age, 35, as Cal when he delivered his unforgettable epitaph, coming from a dying man in Yankee Stadium, and said: "For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

Cal may not know it, but he and Gehrig offer striking similarities. Both are of German ancestry; come from working-class backgrounds; played soccer in high school, although Gehrig also exceled in football.

Coincidentally, they have the same number of letters, nine, in their names -- Cal Ripken and Lou Gehrig. And when the Orioles won the record-tying game they scored eight runs, denoting Ripken's uniform number. Then the next night, when the consecutive-games record went down, they had four, which was the number Gehrig wore on his back.

The speech by Brady Anderson, which offered a teammate's look at Ripken, was exceptional. It'll become the most meaningful verbal tribute Ripken has ever received. Yes, Anderson wrote it without need of a ghost author. Maybe, with that kind of ability, he'll think about being a sportswriter, God forbid.

Remarks at the Ripken ceremony by Joe DiMaggio, which were so loudly applauded, were written by Arthur Richman, a vice president of the New York Yankees. As for Angelos' lengthy message, it's understood it was prepared by a lawyer friend. If so, he ought to put him on waivers as a speech writer.

The gesture by the Major League Baseball Players Association, through the presence of ex-Orioles shortstop and union official Mark Belanger, to give money to build a stadium and park -- Inspiration Field -- in Ripken's hometown of Aberdeen was well received but such a donation will hardly bankrupt the organization. Considering how much money it has accumulated, ought to be making similar grants in all other states where big-league clubs are franchised . . . in the name of Ripken.

Stop to consider that the money donated for the Aberdeen park probably will be more than Gehrig ever made. His highest contract was for $39,000 in 1938, but the Yankees cut him to $34,000 for the next and final season of his career. These are revealing financial figures, but stop to consider that Ripken, in the present season, is being paid over $6 million, or $47,719.94 per game.

Ripken, when mentioning Gehrig in his remarks, said, "Tonight I stand here overwhelmed, as my name is linked with the great and courageous Lou Gehrig. I'm truly humbled to have our names spoken in the same breath."

It could be a classic in poetic justice if the monies coming to medical research at Hopkins from Ripken's involvement resulted finding a solution for treating and curtailing Lou Gehrig's disease. What a beautiful dream and magnificent connection Ripken and Gehrig would then be able to share.

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