Cal's counted in at Cooperstown

Ripken welcomed to Baseball Hall of Fame with 98.5 percent of vote on his first ballot

January 10, 2007|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,Sun reporter

Cal Ripken Jr. heard the most important words yesterday, the ones he had tried to keep from crossing his mind for more than five years now - "Welcome to the Hall of Fame" - and he then "glossed over" the rest of the midday conversation about vote totals and percentages.

To Ripken, hard-working kid from Aberdeen turned Orioles legend and baseball's all-time iron man, the only essential piece of information was that he had made it, that he would be joining the sport's immortals this summer in Cooperstown, N.Y.

"Really, all I wanted to hear was, `You're in,'" he joked.

For the past few months, pretty much since his retirement in 2001, Ripken - the face of the franchise for 20 years - has listened to predictions that he would be an absolute slam dunk for the Hall's Class of 2007, which officially will be inducted July 29.

When the results were announced yesterday, the projections were right on.

Ripken, 46, was named on 537 of the record 545 ballots submitted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the largest number of votes ever received. Ripken also garnered the third-highest voting percentage (98.53), decimal points behind pitchers Tom Seaver (98.84 percent in 1992) and Nolan Ryan (98.79 in 1999).

"I loved what I did. I loved playing and every minute of being a ballplayer," Ripken said at a Camden Yards news conference yesterday, surrounded by wife Kelly, son Ryan and daughter Rachel. "I had a dream a long time ago of being a ballplayer, so, in many ways, it's just a continuation and a celebration of that dream I was able to live. I feel good about it. It's a wonderful honor to be included with the game's best players."

A few hours before the BBWAA phone call, Ripken received another one at his Reisterstown home.

The person on the other line also offered congratulations - though the official announcement was pending.

Call it mother's intuition.

"I didn't have any doubts, and I wanted to congratulate him early," his mother, Vi Ripken, said from the Aberdeen house where the now-Hall of Famer grew up. "I told him I am proud of him, he deserves it and I love him."

Joining Ripken on the Cooperstown dais this summer will be another player who spent an entire career with one team: San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn.

Gwynn, an eight-time batting champ, also easily surpassed the 75 percent needed for induction by capturing 97.6 percent (532 votes out of 545), the seventh-highest in Hall history.

Reliever Rich "Goose" Gossage, in his eighth attempt, fell just short with 71.2 percent of the vote.

The margin of failure was much more stark for the most controversial name on the eligible list. Former Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire finished ninth overall among candidates with 128 votes, just 23.5 percent.

McGwire's 583 home runs are seventh most all-time, but suspicions about his use of performance-enhancing drugs and a failure to answer questions during a congressional steroids hearing in 2005 damaged his chances in his first year on the ballot. Because he received more than 5 percent of the vote, he'll be eligible again next year.

But his presence won't detract from Gwynn's and Ripken's induction ceremony - which could draw more fans than ever to the hamlet in upstate New York.

"I'm thankful that Baltimore is so close in proximity," Ripken said yesterday. "But [the predicted attendance] makes me feel really good. I know that they honor individuals in the Hall of Fame and I am one of those individuals. But each and every year, it is a celebration of the sport and the celebration of the game."

For those who played alongside Ripken, who watched him compile 3,184 hits and 431 homers and a likely unbeatable record of 2,632 consecutive games, it's a well-deserved honor.

"It's not very surprising that Cal made it on the first ballot," said Brady Anderson, Ripken's longtime teammate and one of his closest friends. "He was a great player, a great ambassador of the game, and shattered one of the most hallowed records in sports."

Said Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson: "I certainly never thought Cal would have to wait long to get that phone call. I guess when I think of him, I'll remember that he was there every day, the power and size at shortstop. Certainly, when you think about athletes who have come through Baltimore, he was right at the top."

Maybe even more than Robinson, Ripken has become Mr. Oriole. A Maryland native, he grew up in Aberdeen and was drafted out of high school in the second round in 1978 by the organization in which his father, Cal Ripken Sr., was a famed coach and instructor.

"Cal gave his heart and soul to this franchise, this city and to the game of baseball," Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos said in a written statement. "Throughout his career, he played the game with integrity, determination and class."

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