Ripken Shares 'Eight Elements of Perseverance' Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. may know more about perseverance than just about anyone — the Baltimore Orioles' "Iron Man" played a record 2,632 consecutive games between 1982 and 1998. Ripken talks about his long career in baseball and his book Get in the Game.
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Ripken Shares 'Eight Elements of Perseverance'

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Lou Gehrig's memorial in Yankee Stadium cites his amazing streak of consecutive games played as a record that will never be broken. That's actually written in stone. Of course, that record was broken by our guest, Cal Ripken, Jr. And it turns out that there are more than a few parallels between the two baseball greats, both hometown boys who played their entire careers with just one team. One skipped college to play minor league ball, the other dropped out. Both big men who hit more home runs than usual for their positions, at least at that time. Both, of course, shared a rare determination and toughness. And both are enshrined in Baseball's Hall of Fame.

Following his retirement in 2001, countless fans asked Cal Ripken about the secrets of his success, and after some thought he wrote a book with Donald Phillips called, "Get in the Game: Eight Elements of Perseverance that Make the Difference," which is just out in paperback. He joins us in a moment. Later in the program, the lives of elevators. But first, if you'd like to talk to Cal Ripken, Jr. about perseverance, his remarkable career or about baseball, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also comment on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. Cal Ripken, Jr. joins us from the studios of our member station in Baltimore, WYPR. Welcome to Talk of the Nation.

MR. CAL RIPKEN, JR. (Former Baltimore Orioles Baseball Player; Author, "Get in the Game: Eight Elements of Perseverance that Make the Difference"): Oh, thank you very much. It's my pleasure.

CONAN: In your book, you write that in sports, you were the worst loser and the worst winner in history. What did you mean by that?

Mr. RIPKIN: Well, I think my strong will showed itself early on. When I didn't have success or I failed or we lost, I tended to throw fits and be angry because I didn't know what to do with that energy. And my parents were pretty cool. They didn't really scream at me, they didn't yell at me, they didn't punish me, so to speak, but they asked me, you know, why do you react this way? I just told them, I just can't stand it, you know, I have to get it out somehow. And they encouraged me to actually put it into something positive, you know, so therefore you derive the benefit. So it was a way to manage that inner drive that served me so well for all those years.

CONAN: An inner drive so fierce that you confess in this book you used to cheat your grandmother at cards.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIPKEN: I'm embarrassed to say that's true, but yeah, winning seemed to be the goal no matter what the means was to get there. So I've discovered when you play Canasta, which you're only supposed to draw two cards, sometimes I'd draw three or four cards just to give myself a better chance to have a better hand. And ultimately you realized, you know, what are you good at? You're good at cheating, you're not good at the game.

CONAN: Interesting. You - this is the start, of course, of a new baseball season, and there was one April when you played for the Orioles which was especially memorable, when your team opened up 0 and 21. Yet you said you loved it, you enjoyed going out there every single day even as the team became a laughing stock.

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, I got to tell you, I didn't love going out there and playing and getting the results that we were getting, losing everyday and getting the attention that we had. But one of the things that I do talk about is, if there was one thing that allowed me to break the record, it was truly that I loved what I did. And, even in the worst of moments, and 0 and 21 was the worst of moments, it would have been easier to quit, step back and say, OK, somebody else do it. But it was the love of the game that kept bringing me back and putting me out there and persevering, so you can get to the other side, so you can get to a position of hope. And once you're through those sorts of moments and you look back on it, now it doesn't seem like any of the difficulties or any of the challenges that we face now are near as difficult as those were, so it's much easier to know that I have it in me to get to the other side.

CONAN: And one of the things that helped to break you, and I guess your teammates, out of that terrible slump, was a game called "tape ball." Tell us about that.

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, I think when you're not having fun on the field, you try to revert back, in a way, when baseball was much more fun and much more happy. So I think as a coping mechanism, you know, we all - I stayed around the clubhouse in Minnesota after the game was over, and I started making these little tape balls out of socks and tape. And I made a few of them and we decided that we're going to go down and actually have a pickup game of baseball, so to speak. And we went back to our childhood and we played tape ball. And we played against some clubhouse kids and a few of us on the team, and it really seemed to be - it got us back in touch with why we play the game and why we loved it so much and we were able to have fun and kind of be a little freer spirited. And I think that ultimately, that took a little of the pressure away and it allowed us to get through. And a couple of days later we won our first game and we put all that losing streak behind us.

CONAN: Our guest, Cal Ripken, Jr. If you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Email is talk@npr.org. Let's begin with Steve. Steve calling us from Liverpool, New York.

STEVE (Caller): Hey, good afternoon, gentleman.

CONAN: Afternoon.

Mr. RIPKEN: Good afternoon, Steve.

STEVE: Wondering if you had any change in how you related to the Orioles when your dad was a coach as opposed to any other coaches. Whether directly as a player, or if your teammates gave you any hazing because of that dynamic at all.

Mr. RIPKEN: They didn't treat me any different. I grew in the minor league of baseball. And it's not really like the dynamic when you play with a dad in Little League where sometimes there's a little favoritism shown. When you're in a competitive atmosphere like professional baseball, what you do with your opportunity when you're out there and how you perform and how you hit and all those things, that's how you're judged. And - although, I did feel a little strange - dad really wanted to have the job of a manager from years past, he got passed over a couple of times. He's a good company guy. And when he finally got the job as a manager, we didn't - he didn't inherit the best of teams, we had some problems, but we really didn't admit to that. And I felt a little bit of a pressure being one of the more prominent guys on the team, to perform, you know, for his benefit. And I think that's the only change that really occurred.

As history tells us, six games into that losing streak, they fired my dad. They ended up bringing him back as a coach, but that was pretty much his opportunity. And the only ill-effect that came out of that is, if I would have had to make a decision on where I play for the rest of my career in that first two or three months of that decision, I probably would have gone elsewhere. But I was able to sit down and think about what was important to me. You know, dad got over that, came back and helped Billy with his big league career when he was there. But, you know, you can't separate being dad and son in some ways. But certainly, on the field he was a coach and a professional, and I was a player and a professional.

CONAN: So if you're,,,

STEVE: If I interject this real quickly. You know, in addition to your own obvious personal achievements, which, you know, congratulations, by the way...

Mr. RIPKEN: Thank you.

STEVE: You know, baseball has examples every now and then about families, and yours was yet another beautiful example with you, your father and your brother, you know. So, again, thank you.

Mr. RIPKEN: You're welcome. You know, it's kind of interesting is sometimes you don't realize how good things are until they're gone. And so my advice to a lot of people out there would be, really sit back and count your blessings. And in my particular case, I had a dad who was a manager, a brother that was teammate, and it wasn't until that it wasn't there anymore that you realized how special that was.

CONAN: And if I heard you correctly, had your - for some reason, your contract come up within a month or so after your dad was fired, you might have gone somewhere else?

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, I mean, I was mad and I thought that my dad didn't get the proper opportunity. I was a free agent at the end of that year and I didn't really have to make a decision until the end of that season was over. But there were all kinds of rumors that I wouldn't sign back with the Orioles.

So I was subjected to a lot of trade rumors. And again, my emotions, I guess, got the best of me, and I kind of shut down a little bit from an organizational perspective, and really focused on just doing my job, which got me a lot of hits and got my batting average up. But certainly, if I'd had to make that decision right away after they fired my dad, I think I would've looked for another team.

CONAN: Your dad, as player, coach, scout and later, of course, manager, a lifer in the Orioles organization. You grew up just outside of Baltimore, in Aberdeen, Maryland, a rabid Orioles fan yourself. Yet at that moment, having been, I guess, a feeling of betrayal by this organization you'd invested so much in over the years, what made you decide to stick with it?

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, I thought, at the time, time does heal a few of the wounds and you start to look at the bigger picture. I was from there. I was an Orioles fan. I wanted to raise my family and live there. And then when you started to think of the bigger picture, I thought I was young enough to withstand this rebuilding process, because finally, the Orioles admitted that we were in a rebuilding process. And I thought I was young enough to really go through this and be a positive impact on the rebuilding, and hopefully get to the other side where the playoffs and a potential World Series was just ahead.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line and go to Scott. Scott with us from Charlotte, North Carolina.

SCOTT (Caller): Hey, Cal. How are you?

Mr. RIPKEN: Hi, Scott. How're you doing, man?

SCOTT: Awesome, awesome. Love your career.

Mr. RIPKEN: Thank you.

SCOTT: You are definitely a - definitely someone to look up to. Hey, I wanted to ask you about your early days here in Charlotte. I know you started your career here. Talk about that and maybe how your influences back then reflected on how you played ball throughout your awesome career.

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, we - I certainly had an awesome experience in Charlotte, from many different levels. It was a great team. I came into my own. I think my power numbers came up right at that point. I was a young guy. I was 19 and I thought at that moment that I had a chance to go and play in the big leagues.

But I felt, quite frankly, I signed in Bluefield, West Virginia. Then the next year I went to Miami, Florida, got called up to Charlotte the end of that second year. But went back for a full season in 1980 to Charlotte, and getting my feet on the ground and starting to feel really good. The community was a very small-town sort of feeling community, which was very comfortable to me. Everyone in the city was very friendly.

They pulled us in and I think that combination of all those things together really made me take off in my career. So looking back, Charlotte was a starting point for many things. I still have a warm part of my heart for Charlotte. I go back there fairly frequently. I think, on this tour, I pop in. I was just in there, you know, for - traveling to Augusta, I tend to stop by and say hello through the airport every once in a while.

CONAN: Back in those days - Cal Ripken is a minor league owner himself and these new ballparks that are around in so many of the minor league towns are beautiful, modern facilities. Not exactly like what you came up with when you were playing in the minor leagues, back in the early 1980s.

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, when I came through Charlotte, there was a place. It was called Crockett Park, and Crockett Park had its charm altogether. It was an old wood structure and it felt like a baseball place, and one that I grew up with my dad managing in the southern league, and I felt comfortable there.

Certainly, you know, the stadium we own in Aberdeen and the stadium we're pushing for a little bit in Augusta, Georgia, would be more like big league stadiums in modern fields and skyboxes and those sorts of things.

But there is something really nice about the charm of an old minor league ballpark and the fans that come out there, day in and day out, to support a developing young man. So I mean, I kind of am partial to the old baseball fields and I think many of the new ballparks have been able to achieve an old-baseball feel in a new environment.

CONAN: Scott?

SCOTT: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Scott.

Mr. RIPKEN: You're quite welcome.

CONAN: We're talking with baseball's "Iron Man," Cal Ripken, Jr., about his book, "Get in the Game." If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. Or send us an email, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking with baseball's "Iron Man" this hour. If you'd like to join talk with Cal Ripken about his streak, about what's changed in the game of baseball and what hasn't, our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address, talk@npr.org. And you can check out our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. Let's get another caller in. Kevin's with us, Kevin calling from Greensboro, North Carolina.

KEVIN (Caller): Hey. Can you guys hear me?

CONAN: Yep. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

KEVIN: Hey, Cal, nice to talk to you.

Mr. RIPKEN: Nice to talk to you, Kevin.

KEVIN: Yeah, last year, that was a great group that went in, you and Tony, into the Hall of Fame and you guys represent the best of the game. But in the last couple of years, as we know, there's been some bad things going on. Has the commissioner or players' union gone far enough to clean this up, do you think? And is that a tough question for you to answer?

Mr. RIPKEN: Yes, it's absolutely a tough question, because I don't have a feel or insight. I'm kind of in the same position that you are. Maybe you're waiting for information to come out. I'm glad I wasn't in that sort of culture that can give you a more educated answer, but from where I sit, you know, I love the game so much. The game has honor and integrity and the honor and integrity has been attacked, you know, through the different stories that are out there and the steroid issues, but I think that they've actually gone a long way in trying to clean that up and maintain the integrity of the game.

You know, it's not a system or not a process in place that you can snap your fingers and make it all go away. Reality is that people are going to try to get away with those sorts of things, but I think we've come a long way into trying to restore the credibility of the game.

CONAN: We've heard a lot of people saying, look, management had to have been deliberately looking the other way. You were playing the game during what's now known as, in retrospect, the "Steroids Era," during the 1990s in particular. Did you notice that people were juicing? Did you have questions about what was going on?

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, first of all, I didn't have enough knowledge of what that meant, by "juicing." In many ways, it scared the heck out of me, so I didn't take that any further. But common sense and logic would say, look, it's happening in other sports. Some people've been busted in the other testing programs. If it works, then it's probably in our game, as well. But you know, this is not being done out in the open. You might see someone that comes back from the off-season next year and they're much bigger and you wonder how they got so much bigger because you know how much time you spent in the weight room and you really hadn't changed much.

So I mean, I think there was some normal suspicions and some second looks sometimes, but I don't think - I know I didn't have any sort of knowledge that could actually piece all of those things together. During this whole congressional hearings and all of the talk now, I guess we're all becoming a little bit more educated, but no way did anyone ever inject anybody in the middle of the clubhouse or did they talk about it.

CONAN: Hm. Kevin, thanks very much for the call.

KEVIN: Hey, and one other thing, Cal. I work for Robin Roberts. He always tells me to tell you hello.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIPKEN: Tell Robin I said hello. He's a great man.

KEVIN: OK. You take care, guys.

Mr. RIPKEN: Thank you.

KEVIN: Bye-bye.

CONAN: Robin Roberts, of course, the famous right-hander, best known for his days with the Phillies when they were the Whiz Kids, back in the 1950s.

Mr. RIPKEN: Sure.

CONAN: Now, let's see if we can get another caller in, and this is AJ, AJ calling us from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

AJ (Caller): Congratulations, Mr. Ripken, on your fine career. About nine or ten years ago, I had certain cause to get a couple dozen of your books autographed for my American Legion baseball team. I gave each member a copy of it and...

Mr. RIPKEN: Terrific. Thank you.

AJ: When I was playing, you know, kid ball and Legion ball, everybody wanted to have a crouch like Stan Musial, and in 29 years of coaching and sponsoring Legion ball, you and Pete Rose were the greatest influences on those boys, and for the last couple years, everybody wanted to hustle. Everybody wanted to stay in every game, and you know, in the last couple years, everybody wanted to hit a long ball and just stand at the plate and watch it go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AJ: But what do you think the influence and importance of Major League players on youth baseball is? And given this influence on the quality of the game, do you think Pete Rose ought to be in the Hall?

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, I mean, you should, in my opinion, judge Pete for what he was able to do on the field, and he certainly was one of the game's best players...

AJ: Amen.

Mr. RIPKEN: And I don't have a problem with him being included in the Hall of Fame or elected in the Hall of Fame. And then, I guess, the story of his career can be told at that point. So certainly I think he's a hall-of-famer. Some of the other issues, whether he should work in baseball again or not, I mean, I don't have really an opinion on that, because those are commissioner sort of responsibilities.

As far as watching homeruns, it's funny. You say what influence does Major League Baseball now have on the kids? I have a 14-year-old boy, very influential, watches things and it is very much an entertainment presentation of the sport, whether it's ESPN, the way they go through the highlight packages and they do those things, or the individual performances, styling at home plate, and doing that.

Kids are very much in tune with that and I think we were in tune with it, but we also balanced it off with, how does the other person feel on the other team? And sometimes I think sportsmanship is a little bit forgotten in place of the individual attention of the moment that you're a hero, of that moment you need to bask in the glory of that.

I think when you play the game longer and you have a certain honor and consideration for the other team, you'll realize you'll still get that feeling, but you just don't have to show it out there on the field so much. It's still a grand feeling, but show some respect for the other guys, because he's not so happy he gave up that long homerun.

CONAN: As AJ referred to, you're deeply engaged in youth baseball. The field you own in Aberdeen is not just a minor league park, but there's a youth baseball field modeled after Fenway Park in the old Memorial Stadium, Yankee Stadium, the great parks. One of the divisions in Babe Ruth Baseball is named Cal Ripken Baseball, and how do you teach kids - how do you teach kids sportsmanship?

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, I think you just make them aware of it. It's not being talked about as much, I think. Some of the elite kids are being catered to a little bit earlier. They're a big influence on some of these travel teams and those sorts of things, and so there's not a lot of coaches or adults kind of correcting the behavior of the kids. To me, you just make them aware of what those reactions are. You kind of take them down a road that says, look, you're a pitcher. You're going to give up some of those homeruns. You know, that pitcher over there is going to feel the same thing you do. And if you're able to kind of connect with them and tell them stories about yourself and some of the learning things that happened in your life, that's the first step.

If they're not aware of it, they can't curb their behavior. But still, I think they love their 15 minutes of fame, so to speak. If they get a game-winning hit, they're going to celebrate it in the way that they see the big leaguers celebrate it, and it makes it for a little bit harder work, talking about some of the issues of sportsmanship.

But in the actual heat of the competition, that's where the kids experience those things and the teaching moments are the next day and the day after. And if you stay at it good enough, I think you'll start to shape the kids to think more in terms of sportsmanship and fair play, and then honor, as opposed to the glory of the moment.

AJ: Well...

CONAN: Yes, sir?

AJ: We've told our boys every year, almost every day, baseball's the only sport that has a sacrifice play.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIPKEN: Well...

CONAN: Good line. I think Cal's just jotted it down. He may steal it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIPKEN: I'll use that again for sure.

CONAN: Thanks, AJ.

AJ: Yes, sir.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go now - this is Michael, Michael calling us from Cleveland.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hi, Cal. It's really an honor to be able to listen to you and actually be able to talk to you on this show I like so much. I was calling because I've been coaching my two kids, who are now 13 and 11, in youth baseball and it's been a lot of fun. And one summer day two years ago, I opened up my front door and found a signed copy of your book about kids and sports and I was intrigued to get it, and then, of course, felt as though somebody was perhaps suggesting I read it in order to become a better coach...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHAEL: And I really enjoyed reading it and it made me think a lot about what we're doing to our kids in sports these days. I wondered what your thoughts are about how intense it's become with kids and all sports, not just baseball.

Mr. RIPKEN: Yeah, well, my first feeling is that all parents, and I would say 99.9 of them operate with the best of intentions for their kids, and sometimes they put a little pressure on them because they want so desperately for them. They want to provide the resources. They want to stay on them. They want to give them the disciplines.

And I think sometimes we forget that kids are kids, and they need to have fun. They need to have some space. And I guess my view is, and my dad's view was, you need to take some of the pressure out of performing, because a lot of the learning takes place when you fail, and you've got to be willing to try and then experience what it feels like not to have a hit every single time.

It starts to motivate you and help you learn about what you can do in those situations. So, if there's one thing I can - one piece of advice I would give, maybe two pieces of advice I would give to parents and coaches, is try to reduce the pressure and try to think about ways to reduce the pressure. And if you're going to teach, try not to teach in the emotional part of the game. Try to teach the next day. Not on the ride home, not after the review of what happened on the field, but think about it the next day and try to have the conversation. And you'll be rational, the kid will be rational, and he'll be a whole lot more receptive to that sort of information.

MICHAEL: Well, he's looking at me through the car window right now. He just listened...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHAEL: I appreciate it so much. Thanks for the show.

CONAN: Michael, thanks very much for the call.

Here's an email from a Christopher in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. "Cal, in all those 17 years, there must have been a few days you really didn't want to show up. Tell us about a few of those days."

Mr. RIPKEN: Yeah, I mean there's plenty of days where you wake up, you're sore from the day before, you might have a few injuries that you're nursing. You didn't get a whole lot of sleep because it's a day game after a night game. And it turns out that Randy Johnson is pitching that day game and you can't see. Those days you'd like to say, OK, somebody else go out and do it.

But then I always remember that I had some of my best days when my expectations were a little lower. And I pushed myself to get through. You just stay within yourself and you perform real well. So I always thought, no matter how bad I felt, I wasn't going to be able to accomplish anything watching the game. I didn't want to watch the game. You need to actually have the courage to go out there and give it a try.

And pleasantly, I was pleasantly surprised, most of those days that you went out there, I was able to go out there and do something in the course of the game that would help us. And you feel like that you deserve to be in the game. So, I always try to brainwash myself and think, you know, there's a four for five game, or a five for five game, or you're going to help your team win. Just because you feel a little bit down and you're not going to try as hard and your talent will come through.

CONAN: Here's another email, this from Patrick in Jacksonville, Florida. "There's a legend in Baltimore about a night during the streak that the lights didn't work at Camden Yards. Is there any further story to that night? Some people in Baltimore have said that Cal wasn't going to make it to the ballpark that night. Why, if the story goes the way some of us had heard it, real O's fans can't blame you for it."

Mr. RIPKEN: Well, I mean, it's easy to check the facts on that one. I remember it very well. The bank of lights went off and Randy Johnson was pitching for the Seattle Mariners. And we were deciding what to do about that. Was there enough visible light out there to actually see a guy throwing a hundred miles an hour? And the bank was just over our dugout. And I physically went out and tested the lights or whatever else for the umpires. So I was in discussion with the umpires, we went out there and threw. I was definitely there. I was ready to play.

And the funny part about it was we all decided that it was better that we play that night because the next day would have been a sunny day or a day game, and Randy Johnson would have been throwing out of the stands on a day game. He's much harder to see. So we all decided that we're going to go there. Evidently, Lou Piniella told Seattle a little bit different story, that the game was going to go. So they started leaving the ballpark. So we didn't have that option, after all. So they scheduled it for the next day and we played. But I definitely was there. And I'm sure I was on camera a number of times being out in the field.

CONAN: There's an old story about Lefty Gomez, the old Yankee pitcher back in the '30s. This would have been a day game. It was getting dark and was facing, I think, Bob Feller or somebody throwing really, really hard. And strike one, strike two, he starts walking back to the dugout. The umpire says, hey, you got one strike left! He says, I don't want it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We're talking with Cal Ripken. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And let's go to Frank. Frank is with us from Sumter in South Carolina.

FRANK (Caller): Hey Cal, how are you doing?

Mr. RIPKEN: Hey Frank, how are you doing, sir?

FRANK: Good. Hey, listen, I really appreciate what you do for the game of baseball. I'm especially appreciative of the way you determine - your determination and most importantly, your (inaudible), it's not seen these days in a lot of sports these days. When I think of you, I think of people like Vlad Guerrero and Walter Page from football who gave it everything they had.

My question for you is, how do you take those principles and translate them into - in real life, not games, of being a father or being a businessman?

Mr. RIPKEN: How do you translate those principles of hard work and carrying yourself a lot? I think it first starts with your sense of right or wrong, or what you think is good. And as far as transferring a work ethic, I remember I was thinking about that, and I was thinking, why do I have such a good work ethic? Because you're really faced with that decision when you're starting to try to pass on your good traits to your kids. And I was thinking, OK, how do I pass on working hard? And the more I thought about it, I thought, well, how did Dad pass it on to me? He didn't sit me down and tell me of the importance. He just went out and did it. He was a doer. He was a worker. He showed me that in order to get better, you have to be willing to work at it.

And the principle of "if the job's worth doing, it's worth doing right," always resonated with me. So when I look at my kids now, you know, immediately when you want to talk about them working, you know, I talk less about it and I just try to live that example. Because I think that's a way more powerful teacher than actually the words. It's how you live your life.

CONAN: Thanks, Frank.

FRANK: Thank you.

CONAN: And one last call, I suspect. Joe. Joe with us from Eagle River in Wisconsin.

JOE (Caller): Hello, Neal and Cal.

CONAN: Go ahead.

Mr. RIPKEN: Hi.

JOE: Hi. Congratulations on a magnificent career, Cal, and for truly exemplifying the value of the work ethic. And this compliment comes - is all the more sincere because it comes from a life-long Yankee fan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOE: My dad was a semi-pro catcher before he was called into service in World War II, and I was six years old when he took me to Yankee Stadium for Babe Ruth's public farewell in 1948. So that kind of dates me, but I was wondering, Cal, if you could speak to the agony, if it is agony, of some athletes' indecision over how and when to retire. I know you made a clean break from baseball, but here in Wisconsin we keep hearing Brett Favre may come back, and we know Michael Jordan came back. And I wonder, probably an individual decision, but how did you come to your decision to retire? And perhaps you can talk about other athletes' ambivalence about it. And I'll take my answer off the air, and once again, wish you every success.

Mr. RIPKEN: Thank you very much. First of all, it might appear that I made a clean break, but towards the end of my career I had some back problems and my numbers were down, and I received a lot of criticism, or - that I should retire and look how bad it's getting for me. And so, I always remember that sort of feeling. Just because you set a certain standard and you play every day, if you still can compete in sports, and you really are satisfied with playing a role, or you want to continue as long as you can, I first personally think that's the choice and the individual choice of the person.

Are there ramifications of that choice? Yes. Would you might not be seen as good as you once were? But the cold, hard fact is, when you're competing out there on the field, at the highest level, you are one of the best players in the world. Otherwise, you wouldn't have that chance to be there. So when some people say, you know, look, it makes me - it saddens me to see this player at the end of his career, it doesn't sadden me. You know, I see a love of the sport and sometimes it's hard to actually let go of that sport. But as long as you still can compete at some level, I say, give it a try and play as long as you can.

CONAN: Cal Ripken's book is "Get in the Game: Eight Elements of Perseverance That Make the Difference". He joined us from WIPR, our member station in Baltimore. Cal Ripken, thanks so much for being with us today.

Mr. RIPKEN: Oh, I enjoyed it very much. Thank you.

CONAN: Coming up, they're the settings for everything from horror movies to stolen kisses. The strange and marvelous life of the elevator. This is Talk of the Nation, NPR News.

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