Cal Ripken:
Modern-Day Lindbergh or Media Myth?

Like a rock

For days and weeks on either side of those magical 22 minutes frozen in time, the scion of the industrial age -- advertising -- insidiously spread its false promise on the Ripken proceedings. George Lipsitz's "Time Passages" and David Potter's "People of Plenty" tell the story of how the industrial revolution spawned a surplus of goods, which in turn gave birth to market research and the modern advertising industry. Now everyone knows that Cal Ripken Jr. is no Jim Palmer when it comes to pitching -- sales pitching, that is -- but advertisers know a good image when they see one. After all, more than 6 million cable TV subscribers around the nation tuned in Sept. 6 to see Cal break the record, giving ESPN its largest baseball audience ever, and its third-highest ratings for any program apart from NFL football. Once, Ripken had been nicknamed "Cal-cium" because he was so wholesome and milquetoast that the only national ad contract he could get was for milk. But suddenly he became the face or name (but seldom the voice) behind ads for Chevy pickup trucks ("Like a rock"), Nike shoes ("Just do it 2,131 times"), Starter athletic wear and several other products that sought to trade on his myth or symbolism.

In rare moments, Ripken himself got caught up in the videodrone. During the fifth inning of the Orioles' game on Labor Day (the closest game to the record-breaker for which I could get tickets), an infield practice grounder from the first baseman skittered right past Ripken as he watched the 2,129 banner unfurl via the scoreboard's "Jumbotron" video screen. And after game 2,130, poignant appearances by one-time Gehrig teammate Joe DiMaggio and home run king Hank Aaron were insultingly juxtaposed with on-field visits by actor Tom Selleck and some unknown from the soap opera "The Young and the Restless," reputed to be one of Ripken's favorite TV shows. Perhaps so, but Ripken looked far more embarrassed than bemused when the actor's visit was prefaced by the Jumbotron's display of a "Y & R" scene customized to congratulate him.

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