COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn took their place in baseball’s shrine Sunday, saluted as much for their Hall of Fame careers as their character off the field.
Commissioner Bud Selig and a record crowd came to cheer them and all that was good about the game.
A continent away, a different scene played out. Barry Bonds failed to tie the home run record, a chase tainted by his surly nature and a steroids investigation.
Ripken and Gwynn sensed that poignant counterpoint on their induction day.
“This day shouldn’t be all about us,” Ripken said. “Today is about celebrating the best that baseball has been and the best it can be. This is a symbol it’s alive, popular.”
“Whether you like it or not, as big leaguers, we are role models,” he said. “The only question is, will it be positive or will it be negative?”
Gwynn offered the same sentiment.
“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,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that.”
“When you sign your name on the dotted line, it’s more than just playing the game of baseball,” he said. “You’ve got to be responsible and make decisions and show people how things are supposed to be done.”
Boosted by busloads from Maryland, an estimated 75,000 fans turned the vast field facing the podium into a sea of black, orange and brown.
Ripken spent his entire career in Baltimore, making his mark by playing 2,632 consecutive games and breaking Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130. Among the 53 Hall of Famers on stage behind Ripken were former Orioles Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray and Jim Palmer.
“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 and community, humility, integrity and love. Mom, the words are hard to find how much I love you back.”
“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 got 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.”
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