- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Perhaps no other players embodied all that was good in baseball during the sport’s heyday more than Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, and the duo’s nearly unanimous election to the Hall of Fame yesterday underscored it.

Conversely, few players symbolize all that is wrong with the game during its current Steroid Era than Mark McGwire, and that led to surprisingly minimal support for the slugger’s enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Ripken, the Baltimore Orioles’ revered “Iron Man” for more than two decades, and Gwynn, the San Diego Padres’ sweet-swinging outfielder, earned overwhelming approval in their first year of eligibility. Ripken was named on 98.5 percent of the record 545 ballots submitted by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, the third-highest percentage ever. Gwynn followed right behind, selected by 97.6 percent of voters.

“It’s almost an extension of a boyhood dream,” Ripken said during a conference call with BBWAA members. “You want to be a baseball player in the worst way, and sometimes you fantasize that maybe someday you’ll be good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. But it’s such a fantasy and such a dream you don’t really think about it.”

McGwire, also on the ballot for the first time, didn’t come anywhere close. Despite his 583 home runs, seventh on the all-time list, the former Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals first baseman received only 23.5 percent support by voters who clearly factored in rampant speculation that those numbers were inflated by the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Retired players must be named on at least 75 percent of ballots to earn induction, with “integrity,” “sportsmanship” and “character” among the criteria voters consider.

Baseball did not test for steroids during McGwire’s career, but the slugger’s image was tarnished when he was called before a congressional committee in March 2005 and refused to answer questions about the use of performance enhancers by him or others, repeatedly saying, “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

“The fact that Mark didn’t get in, I think, is more people making a statement about the congressional hearings than it is what he was able to do on the baseball field,” Gwynn said.

McGwire is the first slugger from the Steroid Era to be eligible for the Hall, and his exclusion surely will be taken into account when voters have to decide for or against the likes of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro.

“I know [the controversy] exists, and it doesn’t bother me that it’s a story one bit,” Ripken said. “But when I look at myself, I don’t believe it’s my place to cast judgment.”

There was no debate about Ripken’s place in the Hall. His ticket was stamped Sept. 6, 1995, the night he broke Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played, an event many credit for helping save baseball following the 1994 players strike.

Even without “The Streak,” which ended Sept. 20, 1998, after 2,632 games, Ripken had a solid Hall of Fame resume. He is one of only eight players in baseball history with at least 400 homers (431) and 3,000 hits (3,184), he was an All-Star 19 times, he won two American League MVP awards and he helped redefine his position, proving a 6-foot-4, 225-pound kid from Aberdeen, Md., could play shortstop in the big leagues.

“Cal Ripken is more than just records and statistics,” Orioles owner Peter Angelos said in a statement. “He is the Iron Man who was born in Maryland, played his entire career for his hometown team and gave everything he had day in and day out, year after year. Cal showed everyone how the game should be played.”

So did Gwynn, a hometown hero of his own who grew up in San Diego, played his entire career with the Padres and established himself as one of the best pure hitters in baseball history.

The stocky, effervescent outfielder had a career .338 batting average, higher than anyone who has played the game since Ted Williams. A 15-time National League All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner, Gwynn broke into tears yesterday upon learning the news.

“I answered the phone, and when he said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve made the Hall of Fame,’ I just lost it,” Gwynn said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to know that people think what you did was worthy.”

Ripken and Gwynn will be enshrined July 29 during ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y. They were nearly joined by Rich “Goose” Gossage, one of the game’s first dominant closers, who fell 21 votes shy of induction in his eighth year on the ballot.

Others who came up short include outfielders Jim Rice (63.5 percent) and Andre Dawson (56.7 percent) and pitchers Bert Blyleven (47.7 percent), Lee Smith (39.8 percent) and Jack Morris (37.1 percent).

Provided they maintain at least 5 percent support, players remain on the ballot for 15 years. Based on yesterday’s results, it’s debatable whether McGwire ever will get in.

“I hope that one day he will get into the Hall of Fame because I really believe he deserves it,” Gwynn said.

IRON MAN’S LEGACY

BIO

Name: Calvin Edwin Ripken Jr.

Born: Aug. 24, 1960, in Havre De Grace, Md.

Batted/Threw: R/R

CAREER STATS

Seasons: 21

Games: 3,001

At-bats: 11,551

Runs: 1,647

Hits: 3,184

Doubles: 603

Triples: 44

Home runs: 431

RBI: 1,695

Stolen bases: 36

Walks: 1,129

Strikeouts: 1,305

Batting average: .276

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

• Selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the second round of the 1978 draft.

• Won 1982 American League Rookie of the Year Award.

• Selected to 19 AL All-Star teams and twice named MVP.

• Won AL MVP award in 1983 and 1991.

• Broke Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130 consecutive games played Sept. 6, 1995.

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