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Talking Baseball with Cal Ripken Jr.

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Talking Baseball with Cal Ripken Jr.


Talking Baseball with Cal Ripken Jr.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Steroid scandals have socked major-league baseball with a black eye this season. It's certainly not the first time the sport's been under a black cloud. Ten years ago baseball was struggling to recover from a lengthy strike that drove away fans. In retrospect, many say it was a lengthy streak that helped bring baseball back after that strike. We're talking about the Baltimore Orioles' Cal Ripken and a feat that earned him the title "Iron Man." On September 6th, 1995, Ripken played his 2,131st consecutive game, smashing through Lou Gehrig's 56-year record. Ripken retired in 2001, but he maintained strong connections to baseball. He owns a minor-league team and runs a kids league and regularly attends O's games. And he says he's perfectly happy being a spectator.

Mr. CAL RIPKEN (Retired Baseball Player): I might be one of the few guys that had his fill of the competition. I played, I guess, over 3,000 games, almost every single game for my whole career. And, you know, I know what it feels like to face Roger and Randy--Rog Clemens and Randy Johnson--and Pedro and those guys in the clutch, and quite honestly, I don't miss standing in the box or being out there in the field playing. I miss some of the parts about being around the team. Sometimes when you look at the Orioles now you almost feel a little bit like an outsider looking in, and I always had an inside perspective. But as far as playing, I think it was time for me to go and it was time to try to do something else.

NORRIS: I want to talk to you about this steroids crisis which has hit your beloved franchise in a very profound and disturbing way. You said last week that you were in a state of denial about Rafael Palmeiro. Is this starting to sink in now?

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, I mean, when I found out, you know, I think, like many fans after Rafe in the congressional hearings, you know, everybody heard him say the words and then we just kind of moved on. But when the test came back, I was in the Bahamas when I heard and then it goes over ESPN and my son comes and talks to me about it. You know, the reality hits you that it could very well be the truth, but I was hoping there would be something that could explain it. And the longer it goes, the more it seems like there won't be one.

NORRIS: You know, there was a slogan for years that you well know--but there was a slogan for years in the Oriole club, `Play baseball the Oriole way,' which meant work hard, follow the rules, win clean. And that slogan has sort of changed now to play baseball the right way. And I'm just wondering if you think baseball is living up to that motto?

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, I mean, I don't know where that definition came up. I mean, there's an honor and there's a sportsmanship, I think, in this culture that's lost a little bit. And, you know, the 15 minutes of fame and being out in front and styling on your home runs and the individual accolades that go with doing well, you know, should be replaced by how do the other teams feel about that? You know, you need to win with dignity and have success with dignity the same way that you handle losing. And so I think sportsmanship, you know, I guess needs to be looked at a little bit. And Dad used to say there's a right way to do things and there's a wrong way, and clearly the way the Orioles thought they were teaching baseball was the right way.

NORRIS: Well, your dad, Cal Ripken Sr., had a lot to do with that slogan `the Oriole way.' And he was seen in many ways as a moral compass for the franchise. And I'm wondering if--what do you think he would have done about players of his who were using steroids or any other kind of performance-enhancing drugs?

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, I'm not a hundred percent sure, you know, what his reaction would be. But I'd be a hundred percent sure that he would have one and it would be a strong one at that. So he wasn't somebody that sidestepped any of the issues. He used to always call the people in the organization his sons. That was his way of dealing with having sons in the big leagues with him. He said, `You know what? I've been playing the role of a father in many ways in all these guys I've developed for my sons. I teach them how to play baseball, but you kind of look after their decision-making as well.' And I think Dad would have probably approached it like a father to a son.

NORRIS: Now you've stayed involved in baseball. Is that enough for you to own a minor-league team, to work in Little League, or might you one day follow in your father's footsteps and manage a big-league team or perhaps own a team?

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, I mean, I have aspirations to test some of my philosophies that I've learned along the way from organizational development, which is through the minor-league system, you know, test some scouting philosophies. And, yeah, I keep an eye to the big-league scene, and if there was an opportunity that would come my way, I certainly would analyze it to its specifics and see if it fits into my life. Right now, my kids are 12 and almost 16 and I value this little time that I have with them. I've never had the flexibility in my life because I've always lived to a baseball schedule since I was very small. And the flexibility I'm enjoying now is doing a lot of things I like but also, you know, owning my schedule to the point where I can be there with my kids, be there for the kids' events. And maybe in a couple years, or maybe in a shorter time than that, when they're all set up and they're doing their own thing, maybe there's an opportunity that fits in my life.

NORRIS: Cal Ripken, it's been great talking to you. Thanks so much.

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, thank you.

NORRIS: Former Baltimore Oriole shortstop Cal Ripken. Ten years ago Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's long-standing record by playing 2,131 consecutive games. The anniversary of that feat is next month. For more on Ripken's streak, visit our Web site,

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