Fan's oddball Cal collection didn't cost much, but it's still a treasure

October 04, 2001|By Andrew Ratner

HOW MY collection began I'm not quite sure.

A miniature copy of Cal Ripken's bat, including his signature on the barrel, about the size of your pinky.

A toy bus that plays part of the speech he gave the night he broke Lou Gehrig's record when you push down its front wheels.

A lamp switch that resembles a Wheaties box with Cal's picture on it.

Why I began accumulating this stuff I'm not sure either. I've always been a bit of a pack rat. Part of me figured the stuff might have value someday, like the ads and trinkets from the 1920s and '30s bearing Babe Ruth's image that are displayed at his birthplace museum in Baltimore's Ridgely's Delight.

Seeing that I've never sold anything on eBay, though, I was mostly drawn to the souvenirs just because I admired Cal, as millions of baseball fans do.

Perhaps even more unfathomable than playing Major League Baseball with the skill and grace he has for 20 years would be having one's face on so many hundreds of items.

Religious icons and Elvis aside, there couldn't be many souls on the planet who have had their images reproduced as much as the Orioles' Ironman. The Major League Baseball Web site even has a "Ripken boutique."

If I needed a reminder about the reverence for Cal, I saw it on a recent visit to a Red Sox game in Boston. There, one could buy all manner of T-shirts suggesting that members of the hated New York Yankees could commit various lewd acts -- or Ripken farewell memorabilia displayed as preciously as a Faberge egg.

A model of the ballplayer authentic down to the No. 8 on his spikes.

A Ripken action figure that swings at a pea-sized baseball.

A Ripken kewpie doll, complete with stuffed baseball glove -- and graying hair.

A bobblehead doll that looks like Cal at 20.

A bobblehead doll that looks like Cal at 60.

From the look of those dolls and model, not to mention the larger-than-life statue of him outside the Ripken Museum in Aberdeen, his isn't an easy face to sculpt. His blue eyes don't transfer well to bronze or plastic.

The guy always seems to take a good picture, however. Any other 40-year-old male knows he should never be photographed while engaged in strenuous athletic activity; it is not pretty. But rare is the news photo or baseball card that doesn't capture Cal fully focused, determined, self-possessed -- just as all the words ever written about him acclaim.

A baseball card that depicts Cal escaping from a tyrannosaur. (Who knows why?)

A shot glass commemorating his 3,000th hit.

A CD-ROM baseball card that traces his career in video highlights.

The only standard for my collection is that I didn't want to pay much for any of it. There's plenty out there for people who do, including Ripken baseball cards that include vials of infield dirt from Oriole Park or swatches of his jersey. The e-bidding started at $5,000 for the traffic-cone orange jersey he wore last month when the Orioles played a game in their 1970s-style uniforms.

I'll miss Cal, like most baseball fans, judging from the lengthy ovations and flashbulb-popping at-bats that have greeted him around the country since he announced his retirement plans in June. I don't hope that he pulls a Michael Jordan and unretires, though.

My dresser's running out of space.

Andrew Ratner is a reporter on The Sun's business desk.

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