HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
July 23, 2006

Ripken and Gwynn are moving to Cooperstown

By Matt Kane

The right to vote in the United States is often abused, but one group of voters tends to get it right when they fill out their ballots.

It is the distinct responsibility of The Baseball Writers of America to vote on candidates who are eligible to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and, from what I see, the votes of each writer tend to go to the correct names.

Taking into consideration a player’s statistical numbers and his impact on the game can be a difficult task, but that wasn’t really the case in January, when the final votes for the class of 2007 were dropped into the ballot box.

Running away with more than the necessary percentage of votes to be inducted in to the hall were baseball legends Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn.

I don’t know if there are two players more deserving of being hall of famers than Ripken and Gwynn, and it seems the writers agreed with me. Ripken received 537 votes, or 98.5 percent, and Gwynn received 532 votes, or 97.6 percent. They will be officially inducted Sunday, July 29, in a ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Ripken and Gwynn’s numbers are certainly hall of fame worthy. Both had over 3,000 hits (Ripken: 3,184, Gwynn: 3,141), were fixtures at the all-star game (Ripken: 19, Gwynn: 15), and were gold glove winners (Ripken: 2, Gwynn: 5).

Of course, Ripken is known for his iron man career, and the 2,632 straight games he played from May 30, 1982 to Sept. 20, 1998. But looking at his achievements might open a few eyes.

Ripken won the Silver Slugger award as the American League’s best hitting shortstop eight times, was the 1982 American League Rookie of the Year, and was the American League Most Valuable Player in 1983 and 1991. He hit 21 or more home runs in each of his first 10 full seasons in the big leagues, and in 12 of his 21 seasons, and drove in over 102 runs in four seasons (1983: 102, 1985: 110, 1991: 114, 1996: 102).

What about Gwynn? All he did is lead the league in hits seven times, and win eight batting titles, including four in a row from 1994 to 1997. He also led the National League in batting in 1984, and from 1987 to 1989, and hit over .300 in 19 consecutive seasons. Gwynn teased the .400 mark in the strike-shortened season of 1994, when he batted .394 in 110 games.

The numbers certainly speak for themselves. But there was and is more to Ripken and Gwynn than what we saw on the baseball field. From what I’ve seen in interviews and, on a few occasions, in person, Ripken and Gwynn have a true appreciation for the game, itself, and the people who made it America’s pastime.

I will always remember when Gwynn escorted Ted Williams out onto the field at Fenway Park before the start of the 1999 All-Star Game. And I will always remember Ripken running around Oriole Park at Camden Yards shaking hands with the fans after he officially broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak of 2,130 on Sept. 6, 1995.

Since Gwynn was a National Leaguer his entire career, which he spend in San Diego, I was never able to meet him, but I did have a chance to shake hands with Ripken when the Orioles came to Minneapolis for a road trip.

I waited outside the hotel Ripken was staying at until way after the game between the Orioles and Twins ended, just for a chance at getting his autograph. Ripken finally showed up, and spent several minutes with myself and the handful of other signature seekers. He told us he didn’t sign autographs at the hotel, so I didn’t get a signature. I am still bummed that I don’t have a Ripken autograph in my collection, but the fact that he took time to talk with me for just those few minutes showed me he appreciated us as fans.

I’m guessing Ripken and Gwynn treated the writers the same way. Which, in turn, made the fans and sports writers appreciate him — in a hall of fame way.

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