Cal Ripken:
Modern-Day Lindbergh or Media Myth?

Ripken gets ripped

Not all sportswriters or sports fans were enthralled by Ripken's lope into the record books. A few asked why a guy should be valorized merely for showing up 162 out of 365 days each year. Several pointed out that Ripken's career statistics pale in comparison to Gehrig's -- and Cal disarmingly agreed. "The only thing we have in common is a great desire to play the game," Ripken said of Gehrig. "He was one of the greatest to every play. I'm not and I won't be" (Shaw, 1995).

Perhaps most damning, some detractors noted the Yankees won 11 pennants during Gehrig's era, while the Orioles' have won just one championship with Ripken. That came in Ripken's second season, 1983, when the team still was led by Eddie Murray. Critics say Ripken lacks the leadership skills to match his stubbornness on the field. Tom Wolfe might say Ripken is missing the anti-hero charisma of a Ken Kesey -- or even an O.J. Simpson. Sometimes, even though Ripken's on the field, it's not clear if he's "on the bus" with battlers like Mike Mussina and Rafael Palmiero.

Detractors said Ripken should have taken himself out of the lineup during a prolonged slump in 1990 -- for the good of the team. And they say he should reach out more to younger teammates -- especially black ones. Unlike the Twins' Kirby Puckett or Seattle Mariners' Ken Griffey Jr., Ripken's popularity has not broken the fans' color barrier. Although Ripken has played his entire career in a city that now has a black majority population and a black mayor, Ripken's local fan base has remained in white rural America, where he grew up, and the white suburbs, where he resides. As in most major league cities, few African Americans attend games at Oriole Park, where the average ticket price is among baseball's highest. And few Orioles, including Ripken, are often seen in Baltimore's inner city.

Nevertheless, racial hegemony spared Ripken from the type of death threats and hate mail aimed at Henry Aaron, who is black, in 1974 when he passed Babe Ruth's career record of 714 home runs. Similarly, a few weeks before Ripken's record-setting night, Rickey Henderson broke Lou Brock's career record for steals, but got little more than scorn from fans and sportswriters after proclaiming himself the greatest base thief of all time. Henderson, like Brock, is black.

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