COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. &
When they played, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn epitomized all that was good about baseball. And now as Hall of Famers, nothing has changed.
When they entered baseball's shrine on Sunday, the two were saluted as much for their remarkable careers as the character they have always displayed away from the field, greeted by a record crowd estimated at 75,000 that included Commissioner Bud Selig.
Ripken and Gwynn were awestruck.
"I was intimidated looking out at that many people," Ripken said. "I got real quiet. I just kept looking at it and I was amazed, overwhelmed. So many people. It makes you feel really good that people will trek all the way up from their homes to share this tribute."
"I didn't know if I was going to be able to handle it or not," Gwynn said.
A continent away, a different scene unfolded. Barry Bonds failed to tie the home run record of Hank Aaron, a chase tainted by his surly nature and a steroids investigation.
It was a poignant counterpoint to a memorable, emotional induction day.
"My dad used to say if you take care of all the little things, you'll never have a big thing to worry about," said Ripken, who spent his 21-year career in Baltimore and made his mark by playing 2,632 consecutive games to break Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130. "As the years passed, it became clear to me that kids see it all, and it's not just some of your actions that influence, it's all of them. Whether we like it or not, as big leaguers we're role models. The only question is, will it be positive or will it be negative?
Gwynn, who spent his 20-year career in San Diego, shared the sentiment.
"We make a big deal about work ethic," he said. "We make a big deal about trying to make good decisions and doing things right, and you know what, we are supposed to. That is what they pay us for.
"You've got to be responsible and make decisions and show people how things are supposed to be done. When you sign your name on the dotted line, it's more than just playing the game of baseball. I think the fans felt comfortable enough in us, they could trust us and how we played the game, especially in this era of negativity."
Perfectionists when they played, neither was entirely satisfied with his performance on the most significant day of their baseball lives &
Ripken thought he rushed his speech and Gwynn said he omitted something he wouldn't reveal.
Even though both lamented that their fathers were no longer alive to share the special moment, Ripken and Gwynn were smiling nonetheless, as was everyone else.
Boosted by busloads from Maryland, the vast field facing the podium turned into a sea of Oriole black and orange punctuated by a large patch of Padres brown. And everybody seemed to be wearing shirts with either Ripken or Gwynn emblazoned across the shoulders.
Among the 53 Hall of Famers on stage behind Ripken were former Orioles Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray and Jim Palmer. That only made Ripken, whose dad also coached and managed the Orioles, struggle through much of his speech.
"Most of all, I count the blessings of my family," he said. "Imagine how lucky I am to call the man whose memories I revere to this day by so many important names &
teacher, coach, manager, and especially dad. He was for me and many others an example of how to play and prepare for the game the right way &
the Cal Sr. way.
"And alongside him there was always my mom, who to this day shines as an example of devotion to family, community, humility, integrity and love. Mom, the words are hard to find how much I love you back."
Ripken then broke down, pausing as he began to thank wife Kelly.
"She didn't know anything about baseball or me when we first met," Ripken said.
As Ripken spoke, he pulled a white rose from his suit coat. Son Ryan did the same and handed it to his mom.
Gwynn's family also had a prime role. His daughter, Anisha, sang the national anthems for both Canada and the United States to start the festivities.
Steady on the field, Gwynn was a bundle of nerves for his speech. It didn't take long for him to focus on the moment that changed his life &
June 6, 1981, the day he met his wife, Alicia.
"From that point on, my life pretty much was set," Gwynn said. "She let me play baseball and she raised the children. My wife allowed me to chase my dreams."
Gwynn finished with 3,141 hits and won eight National League batting titles.
"My father said you work hard, good things will happen," Gwynn said. "Boy, oh boy, he was absolutely right. I worked hard in the game because I had to."
Even though he had 3,184 hits &
including 431 home runs &
was a two-time American League MVP and a 19-time All-Star, Ripken always will be known for his streak.
Rick Hummel, longtime baseball writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, received the J.G. Spink Award for meritorious writing, and Royals announcer Denny Matthews received the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence.
Ripken, Gwynn in Hall of Fame
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. &