Cal Ripken:
Modern-Day Lindbergh or Media Myth?

Root, root, root for he-gem-o-ny

Over and over, whether in ESPN's between-innings chat with President Clinton or "man on the street" interviews or local sports columns, the aspect of Ripken's streak that almost always came up was his "pioneer work ethic," as Sports Illustrated put it (Hoffer, 1995). Suddenly, every city bus driver who hadn't missed a day of work in 25 years and every kid who had perfect school attendance for 12 years were getting plaques and being compared to Ripken -- favorably, in Cal's eyes. After all, despite the uniqueness of Ripken's achievement among baseball players, let's remember: It's not like he works every day all year round. He still has 4 1/2 months off between seasons -- especially since the high-paid Orioles again failed to make the playoffs this year. Ripken himself has downplayed the arduousness of his consecutive games string. As he said to Sports Illustrated, "If you could play baseball every day, wouldn't you?" (Hoffer, 1995) But most stories cast his feat in terms of self-sacrifice, not personal fortune, ignoring his $6 million annual contract. This is because America's post- industrial, service economy depends on people coming to work every day, being at the behest of stockbrokers who sit in the sky boxes at Orioles park and bring in their BMWs for winterizing.

"Because myth emphasizes the eternal and cyclical, it speaks more to reconciliation with existing power realities than to challenges against them," Lipsitz wrote in "Time Passages." Myths are made about people like Cal Ripken and Charles Lindbergh, so people like Mike Dorsher can keep their minds on baseball and dreamed-of trips to Europe instead of the 10 percent rent-increase notice that came today. "Myth provides legitimation for the world as it is," Lipsitz said; "it reconciles people to the disparity between their desires and their opportunities."

Another form ideology that is prominent in the Cal Ripken myth is hegemonic masculinity. The key components of hegemonic masculinity are a "culturally idealized form of masculine character ... the connecting of masculinity to toughness and competitiveness ... (and) the subordination of women" (Connell, 1990). Ripken, a former GQ magazine cover boy, met the first two criteria long before he broke Gehrig's record. The extent to which his wife, Kelly, and his mother, Violet, have been subordinate to him was not so clear until the nights of his record-tying and record-breaking games. Kelly, a University of Maryland graduate, stood by her man throughout the post-game embarrassments she helped orchestrate and got kudos from Cal "for the advice, support and joy you have brought to me, and for always being there" (Marantz & Attner, 1995). In contrast to Kelly's supportive housewife role, the atavistic gifts Cal collected on the field that night included a reclining chair, a pickup truck from Chevrolet and an inscribed, ornamental boulder for their lawn.

In The Sporting News, Kelly Ripken said Cal "sees me as independent, as being responsible and capable of taking care of the children. Anything that comes up, he feels I'm capable of handling. I do everything ... (so) he can do what he needs to do without having to worry one minute about what's going on at home. It's completely taken care of. It's wonderful for me to know he feels that way about me" (Marantz & Attner, 1995).

In his post-game speech, Cal also made it clear that his mother fulfilled the same supportive role when he was a child and his father was coaching baseball. "She let my dad lead the way on the field, but she was there in every other way -- leading and shaping the lives of our family off the field," Cal said (Marantz & Attner, 1995).

These are laudable attributes, Connell said (1990), but the message they reinforce is that women's work is separate from men's work; men are the providers, women are the nurturers -- and never the twain shall meet. The problem, of course, is that few women meet, and stay married to, men who make anywhere near $6 million a year. Most women must fend for themselves much of their lives. Men, meanwhile, are not encouraged to nurture their children, or their wives or parents.

Back to Ripken index page.