Ripken, Gwynn in sync

New Hall of Fame members sing each other's praises in New York


January 11, 2007|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN REPORTER

NEW YORK -- Cal Ripken Jr. looked at the man seated to his left on the dais at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan yesterday afternoon and said he would speak first - joking that Tony Gwynn might need time to find a proper answer.

After all, the question was about what the two newest members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame thought about each other. And Ripken, the Orioles' iconic infielder and the sport's all-time iron man, wasn't going to let it pass without a self-deprecating remark.

"I'll let you think about it. I know it's a hard one," Ripken quipped during the Hall's annual announcement news conference here, Ripken's first joint public appearance with Gwynn, the San Diego Padres' eight-time batting champion, since both were elected to the Hall on Tuesday in their first year of eligibility.

Ripken said he admired Gwynn's "passion for the game ... a special passion for hitting," and he told a story about how the two killed time talking hitting while stuck on buses in heavy Tokyo traffic during an all-star tour of Japan years ago.

"It was a wonderful opportunity to talk baseball," Ripken said. "And all you have to do is start a little bit of a conversation with Tony and he takes it and runs with it."

Gwynn laughed, then took his turn at the microphone. And he got personal.

"To me, he is what you want your kids to grow up to be," Gwynn said as Ripken dipped his head, closed his eyes and rested his chin against the cream-colored "Hall of Fame" jersey that he had put on minutes earlier.

Gwynn, also wearing a new, pristine jersey, spent the next few moments talking about Ripken the person, not the player, as his counterpart quietly listened.

"We all know about The Streak and we all know about his exploits on the field, but to me the thing that showed me the way was the way he handled people," Gwynn said. "You are hearing it today and you saw it for 21 years. He just has a way of getting you to relax and wanting you to feel the way he feels about things."

As countless have done before him, Gwynn credited Ripken and his record-breaking consecutive-games streak with reuniting fans and players in 1995, a year after a labor dispute canceled the World Series.

"After '94, believe me, I wasn't quite sure we were going to be able to get the fans back," Gwynn said. "I think Cal is the one who led the way. He showed us how you are supposed to deal with people. And we all followed. We might not have talked about it, but we all followed.

"And I think the game is in a much better position because of guys like Cal Ripken Jr."

Besides the mutual admiration, the pairing of Ripken and Gwynn seems fitting - and practically historical. The last time a Hall conference in Manhattan featured two players with more combined hits than Ripken's and Gwynn's 6,325 was in 1982, when the Orioles' Frank Robinson and the Braves' Henry Aaron were announced together.

"That's pretty good company," said Hall president Dale Petroskey.

Although they had vastly different talents - Ripken was a 6-foot-4 infielder who redefined the shortstop position with his size and power, and Gwynn a short, stout outfielder who probably was the best pure hitter of his generation - their career paths were similar.

Both 46 now, they were drafted three years apart by organizations they never left. Ripken, a second-rounder from Aberdeen High in 1978, began his pro career in tiny Bluefield, W.Va., and spent 21 seasons with the Orioles. Gwynn, a third-rounder out of San Diego State in 1981, started in Walla Walla, Wash., and played 20 seasons with the Padres.

Both became the enduring faces of their organizations - and are proud of that.

Given that longevity and their connections to their teams' cities before they made it to the big leagues, the popularity of Ripken and Gwynn is nearly unrivaled.

And that's not lost on Petroskey, who said the two may be as good for Cooperstown as they have been for baseball.

"They stayed in Baltimore. They stayed in San Diego. And because of that, they have been rewarded with some of the greatest loyalty, some of the deepest and widest fan bases of any players in the history of this game," Petroskey said. "And because of that we expect Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown the last weekend in July to be among the most well attended we have ever had."

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