'The Iron Man' Cal Ripken Predicts World Series

Will the New York Yankees repeat as Major League Baseball champions? What about those surging Tampa Bay Rays? Those are the big questions as the playoffs get under way. Host Michel Martin gets a preview from one of game's best shortstops: Cal Ripken, the Iron Man. The MLB analyst for cable network TBS tells which teams he thinks will go the distance.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Summer has turned to fall, and before you know it, it will be time for the World Series. In a few minutes, we will hear about a woman who broke barriers in professional baseball in the Negro Leagues. That's a little later.

But first, back to this season. Now, some of us are hating because our favorites are out of the mix, but the Atlanta Braves and the San Francisco Giants are still in it. They play tonight. And yesterday, the New York Yankees took the first game against the Minnesota Twins. The Texas Rangers came out on top against the Tampa Bay Rays, and last night, there was this on TBS, as the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Cincinnati Reds.

(Soundbite of game broadcast)

Unidentified Man: And a chopper in front of the plate. Catcher gets it, throws. And he has the no-hitter. Roy Halladay has no-hitted the Reds in the opening game.

MARTIN: Now, that's the first time that's been done in playoff game in 54 years. Now, the playoffs gave us an excuse to call upon one of the game's best-loved players, Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr., the Iron Man - one of only eight players in history to achieve 400 home runs and 3,000 hits. And, of course, he's known for breaking Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played. Now he's a baseball analyst for cable channel TBS, and we caught up with him in Atlanta just before last night's games.

Cal Ripken Jr., welcome.

Mr. CAL RIPKEN JR. (MLB Analyst, TBS): It's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Now, maybe you're not the person to ask because you are, as we said, the Iron Man. But we wondered what it's like for most players who've made it into the playoffs, but they've already endured six months and 162 games out of the regular season. By the time you get to this point in the season, are you just exhausted? Are you just sick of the whole thing, or are you still excited?

Mr. RIPKEN: Yeah, I think I am a good person to ask about the long part of the season. Certainly, 162 games is a long, long season. You do get a lift once the - you find out you make the playoffs, and it almost seems like you have a new season. If you have some bumps and grinds and some injuries that have lingered for the season, but for the most part, you get a big, big lift when the post-season starts and you almost feel like, you know, it's opening day again.

MARTIN: What are the chances that the Yankees will repeat? You know I have to ask.

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, the Yankees - this is one of those times when they - you're going in and thinking that they're not necessarily the favorites, and not because they're not a good team, but they have some question marks in their starting staff. Andy Pettitte was hurt, and he's coming back. He's been fabulous in the post-season, but we really don't know when he's going get back (unintelligible). And so, again, if you look at the Yankees, it's not like they're the overwhelming favorite. And, you know, maybe it's hopeful for the other teams, especially Minnesota. Maybe they have a chance to beat them.

MARTIN: Now, how is that a team like the Twins, the Minnesota Twins - in a much smaller market than New York, with a much smaller payroll - keep doing it?

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, they have a great organization. They scout well. They make good decisions on their players. They play the game extremely well from a day-to-day standpoint. I think they've moved into, I guess, the 10th-highest payroll now, so we might not be able to call them a small-market team anymore. But they certainly do it in a small-market way. They play the game the right way, and they're a brand new ballpark out there that's big. It's more of a pitcher's ballpark, and they've made their team, you know, pitch to contact. And they've kind of built their team around their ballpark.

MARTIN: You know, people like to root - a lot of people like to root for the underdog or the dark horse hero. Is there somebody that we should be looking at who maybe isn't getting the limelight, but maybe deserves it?

Mr. RIPKEN: Yeah. I think that the long shot this year - and that's a great story - is the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds have certainly earned their way into the playoffs, but now they're facing the Phillies, where they've got to face Roy Oswalt. They've got to face Roy Halladay, you know, to start off in the first game. And then they also have to face Cole Hamels. So to get past those three pitchers - they're the hottest pitchers around - it's going to be a very difficult time, but they can do it. You know, predictions and the stuff we do now is to try to figure out who's going to win is really difficult because any team can beat any other team. But I think the real underdog would be the Reds this year.

MARTIN: I understand you like Tampa Bay?

Mr. RIPKEN: I do like Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay has a real strong team. Again, they've built it in a small-market way, and they've competed in the American League East - arguably one of the best divisions in all of baseball. And they beat the Yankees. You know, they won the division two out of the last three years. So they've earned their way in. They're a really good team, and I really like the manager. I like how he gets his team ready to play.

MARTIN: Now, baseball has changed a lot since you started playing in 1981 -and, of course, you retired in 2001. Of course, a lot of us are still sad about that, since I live in the area. But one of the ways that baseball has changed is the whole steroid controversy. And I do wonder if you think baseball is still paying the price for it, however many years later.

For example, youre a TV guy now so you have to know that TV ratings have not been great this season. I wonder, do you think that there's still some spillover effect or you think its something else.

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, I would imagine the black cloud of steroids has been hanging over and it's turned some people off. I think overall - I think Major League Baseball has done a nice job with the players to try to rid baseball of any suspicion, and I think theyve done that with a harder testing program. But the game is still a great game and I think, you know, many people continue to go out and watch it, you know, live. The crowds haven't been affected as much, but certainly, if there is, it's down in the TV ratings a little bit. It might be because that black cloud has done damage to the game.

But, you know, I see the game returning to small ball. I see the game returning to bunts, hit and runs, defensive executions, instead of just waiting for the big home run, as it was before. So its interesting to watch and teams that really know how to play are really having success, like the Minnesota Twins and the Rays.

MARTIN: But, you know, some people say that this has been the year of the pitcher, and that maybe that's why games are low scoring and maybe that is a little bit of a problem for some of the viewers, particularly people watching at home, because they find it harder to follow and that maybe there needs to be more scoring and more excitement on the field.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: What do you think about that? I'm not an expert. I'm asking you, the expert.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIPKEN: No. No, no, I can agree with you that one of the things about the steroid era is that they were scoring a lot of runs in record numbers, there were a lot of home runs, and I think in some ways people that watch baseball games like to see the action, like to see runs scored. People that really know the game, appreciate a well-pitched game. And certainly, now that steroids have been I can't say fully rid, but theyve - the program has certainly worked, it appears to. All the numbers are coming back, the home run numbers are back to a normal range, and pitchers are starting to come to the scene and be able to pitch and dominate again. So yeah, pitching is coming back but I think its a combination that the offense isn't - can't hit as many home runs as they used to.

MARTIN: One of your post-playing days projects has been an organization called Ripken Baseball, Inc. And part of the goal is to sort of keep the love of baseball alive and grow it from the grassroots, if you want to call it that.

Mr. RIPKEN: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: How do you feel that's working?

Mr. RIPKEN: Yeah, I mean we like to think that we want to grow baseball worldwide, in the way that, you know, dad helped understand, which is the Ripken way, and certainly that's a lofty goal. But I like using the platform that baseball gave me as a player, to help kids experience it better and teach the game a little bit better, and have them enjoy tournaments and good fields and those sorts of things. So we have two kid's complexes and we also have three minor league teams, where we celebrate baseball in that way. So things are going along pretty well. I dont think we'll take over the world. But certainly, we'll try to make a nice contribution with the kids.

MARTIN: How are you liking life post-playing days? Do people still get all googly when they see you and all freaked out and - that's Cal Ripken.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You should have heard the ripple that went through my floor when people heard you were on the phone. It was kind of...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIPKEN: Well...

MARTIN: It was cute. You would've enjoyed it, but...

Mr. RIPKEN: I'm very flattered that I'm still recognized and people think of me in a good way. And sometimes I shake myself a little bit by the excitement that is created, just by getting a chance to talk baseball with them, for example. But it was a wonderful, you know, 21 years. It went by really, really quickly. And fortunately enough, I had a second chance at another career. Baseball was my first career, and certainly, at 41 years old youre not ready to stop doing anything, so I've had a chance to dabble in business and do some other things.

MARTIN: Can you go to the grocery store, for example, without creating a fuss?

Mr. RIPKEN: Yeah. I go to the grocery store all the time.

MARTIN: Really?

Mr. RIPKEN: It is interesting - the reaction for me sometimes is greater outside of Baltimore than in Baltimore, because once you lived their for a long time - I've lived there for, I dont know, you know, all my life - people get used to you and they just see you normally, which is a good thing.

MARTIN: Cal Ripken Jr. is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and a TBS analyst for Major League Baseball and he joined us from Atlanta.

Thank you.

Mr. RIPKEN: Oh, its my pleasure. Thanks for talking a little baseball.

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