Woody Allen has said that “90 percent of life is just showing up.” More than any athlete in history, Cal Ripken Jr. took Mr. Allen’s observation literally. Ripken played in 2,632 consecutive games from May 30, 1982, through Sept. 19, 1998. It will be for this staggering feat, which shattered Lou Gehrig’s seemingly “unbreakable” record of 2,130 consecutive games that Ripken will be forever remembered. That’s fitting, but it hardly does the 39-year-old iron man justice. On Saturday, Ripken reminded baseball fans that his 19-year career he got his first hit on Aug. 16, 1981, eight days before he turned 21 has been about much more than “just showing up.” A whole lot more. In the seventh inning in Minneapolis’ Metrodome, Ripken lined a pitch to center field for the 3,000th base hit of his career. “Showing up” is the least that Ripken does. It’s what the two-time American League Most Valuable Player (1983, 1991) has done with his bat and glove after “showing up” that has caused so much misery in the lives of so many opposing pitchers.
Reaching the 3,000-hit milestone, which only 23 other players have managed to do in baseball history, was merely the latest achievement in Ripken’s remarkable career, which includes 17 consecutive All-Star Game appearances. Having clubbed his 400th home run last year, a season in which Ripken batted .340 and recorded a .584 slugging percentage, the highest of his career, the Oriole third baseman joined an even more exclusive club when he reached first base safely during Saturday night’s seventh inning. Ripken became only the seventh player in major league history to hit 400 homers and accumulate 3,000 hits. “Way to go,” Orioles first base coach Eddie Murray said. “Welcome to the club.” Murray, the former Orioles first baseman who Ripken says exerted a strong influence over his career, is another member of the 400-homer/ 3,000-hit club. Others include Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Mays and Dave Winfield. Fans can appreciate the exclusivity of the club . Ripken joined Saturday night by noting baseball’s legendary Hall of Fame sluggers who are not members, including Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle and Mel Ott. Indeed, while 28 others have hit more than 400 home runs, only six of them preceded Ripken in reaching the 3,000-hit plateau.
Fittingly, Ripken celebrated his latest milestone by spending 15 minutes signing autographs after the game, something he typically does. But baseballs and programs are not the only things Ripken signs. He signs lots of checks, too. By the time he’s done, he will have signed $9 million worth of checks, which is how much he has committed to spending on the 6,000-seat, $25-million stadium and youth baseball complex in his home town of Aberdeen, Md. Ripken’s new minor league team will play in the stadium, and he will teach the “Ripken Way” at the youth baseball complex, which will be home for the Cal Ripken division (12 years old and younger) of Babe Ruth League Baseball. Speaking of the Babe you can add him to the list of legendary players who never met the criteria of the club Ripken joined Saturday night.