In a wonderful departure from my usual world of business and politics, I was privileged to spend this past weekend as Cal Ripken’s guest at his induction into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. And what a privilege it was for this lifelong baseball fan.
You may wonder, how does a Washington business guy get to be friends with one of baseball’s greatest legends? It started by chance when one of Cal’s former assistants, Desiree Pilachowski, came to be my executive assistant. At the time, I was leading the Washington Baseball Group in partnership with the Mayor and D.C. Sports Commission to bring Major League Baseball to Washington. It was through Desiree I met Cal and turned to him for periodic advice on navigating the waters of Major League Baseball in general. In the process we became friends – and, oh yes, our partnership with the city was successful. We shared expenses with the city and worked closely with Mayor Tony Williams and the Sports Commission Chairman, Mark Tuohey, and we won out in the contest to find a new home for the Montreal Expos. We were gratified to receive a unanimous Resolution from the City Council for having succeeded in this hotly contested process.
But back to the topic at hand – the Hall of Fame induction. On Saturday night the Hall hosted a dinner for present Hall of Famers, their spouses, and the inductees and a small group of their guests. It was stunning. Over here was Dave Winfield, over there was Willie Mays, here came Ralph Kiner, approaching from the left is Frank Robinson and from the right, my friend Jim Bunning, and – oh my, is that Bob Feller? Talk about being a kid in a candy store. I found all of the Hall of Famers to be eminently approachable and eager to talk. Cal and Kelly Ripken had three tables for family and friends, and he made each of us feel special, as if we were honoring him with our presence. Cal was the man of the hour but he was just being Cal – soft spoken, no swagger, all humility, and total concern for those around him.
The induction itself on Sunday was the greatest turnout by far in the Hall of Fame history: 75,000 in all, to see the induction of two great players, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, who played their entire 20 plus year careers with a single team. I suspect their work ethic and character had as much to do with the turnout as their playing statistics. Of course, Cal’s records of 2,632 consecutive games, and Tony’s .338 career batting average, were also great draws.
Both Tony Gwynn and Cal delivered superb acceptance speeches. They set a great example for everyone in attendance and the millions watching on television. The highlight was Cal’s speech, where he talked in a humble but moving manner. It was a tremendous moment when he said, “I just look at it as showing up to do your work every day. Teachers, mothers, fathers, business people, and many others: You may not receive the accolades that I did through my career. So I’d like to salute you all for showing up, working hard and making the world a better place.” The high point was when he choked up talking about his and children. The iron man showed a chink in his stoic amour – but at the right place and in the right way. Many of us shed a tear with him.
I wish every day was Sunday and every Sunday like this one. And I wish every great athlete was a role model in the mold of Cal Ripken.