(Long Island, NY) Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were used to being in front of large crowds. Playing for a combined 41 years during their careers (including three different World Series), large masses of cheering humanity came natural to them. Until Sunday, that is.
A record crowd estimated at over 75,000 crammed into every available space on the meadow of the Clark Sports Center on Hall of Fame Induction Day in Cooperstown, New York. Fitting for a baseball day, the threat of thunderstorms did not come to pass and a beautiful sunny summer day treated all in attendance.
Gwynn, aka ‘Mr. Padre,’ led off with his speech and brought the fans back with him to the beginning. “As a kid growing up, my brothers and I watched baseball all the time, played it all the time in our backyard,” he said. “And for us, I don’t think any of us thought that hitting a fig or hitting a sock ball or hitting a wad of tape was
going to turn into this. Just unbelievable.”
Breaking into the major leagues in 1982, Gwynn participated in the first of his two World Series only two seasons later. Although his team was defeated by the Detroit Tigers (and by the New York Yankees in the 1998 Fall Classic), Gwynn hit .371in nine games on baseball’s biggest stage.
“1984 was a really good year for us, for the Padres,” Gywnn said. “We had some veteran guys on our club. A Steve Garvey, a Goose Gossage, a Craig Nettles. And I was the fortunate one because my locker was right in the middle of all those guys.”
Gywnn also commented on the second National League champion club he played on. “We just had a tremendous team in 1998. We were lucky enough to get to the World Series. Won our division, beat the Astros, beat the Braves and happened to play the best team maybe in the history of the game – the 1998 Yankees.
“Getting to Yankee Stadium for me is still one of the biggest thrills of my life. Being able to walk out there with the monuments, seeing the history, the retired numbers, seeing the guys who kind of paved the way for us to get here.”
Like Gwynn, Ripken wore the uniform of only one team throughout his career. The ‘Iron Man’ won a ring with the 1983 World Champion Baltimore Orioles and is best known for breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak of 2,130 games in 1995.
“I know some fans have looked at ‘The Streak’ as a special accomplishment,” he said. And while I appreciate that, I always looked at it s just showing up for work every day.”
Ripken credited the only team he knew during his speech. “A big part of me reaching this Hall was played by my teammates and the Oriole organization,” he said. “From the front office to the training room and the men I played with through the years, I was a better player because I was part of the Oriole way.”
A 19-time All-Star, Ripken won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1982 and the AL Most Valuable Player Award the following season. He won a second MVP in 1991 and added two Gold Gloves and eight Silver Slugger awards.
During the press conference following the ceremony, Gwynn lamented on the amount of people in attendance. “75,000. We played on one team in one city. Fans could trust us, especially in this era of negativity.”
Ripken added, “I think that it’s their love of baseball. Many people told me that they wanted their sons and daughters to experience this. They brought them for the first time to Cooperstown, passing on their love of baseball to the next generation. I interpret it as a sign that baseball is alive and well.”
Judging by the response over the weekend, America’s Pastime was never so alive.