By E.A. Barrera
“Ninety percent of life is just showing up”
Wrapped around the block and moving forward for over three hours like a 4th of July parade, close to 500 people turned out on April 21 to meet baseball legend Cal Ripken at Warwick’s Bookstore in La Jolla. Ripken was in San Diego to sign copies of his new books Get In the Game: 8 Elements of Perseverance That Make the Difference and The Longest Season.
Ripken, who played Shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles from 1981 through the 2001 season, and holds the record for the most consecutive games played by a professional ballplayer 2,632 games in a row (earning the nickname “Iron man”) - will be inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame this Summer with Padres great Tony Gwynn.
Both Ripken and Gwynn played baseball their entire careers with their home town teams. In the process, both men became symbols of a steady, non-showy work ethic which stood in stark contrast to other players of their era. Admiration for that work ethic and stoic commitment to the integrity of baseball has made both men heroes in the minds of may Americans.
This was repeatedly demonstrated by the fans who came out for Ripken. Warwick’s staff said it was one of the largest turnouts for an author since former President Jimmy Carter’s appearance at the store in 2002. One by one, as they approached Ripken with their children - wearing Orioles’ clothing, and carrying freshly purchased books (often times several copies of the same book) - adults fell swiftly back into their own childhood, blending a combination of familiarity, informality, and reverence for a baseball player who has come to embody the American work ethic.
“Hi Cal. Thanks for being here. It’s really an honor. Thank you for being such a great role model to our kids,” said Steve Patterson of Poway, who brought his two sons Jake and Trevor to meet Ripken.
In an age of cynicism, with public sports figures who constantly remind us of human failures whether it is the steroid scandal in baseball, or the endless string of drug use stories among professional athletes, or protracted, temper-tantrum laden contract negotiations for yearly sums of money the average American will never see in his or her lifetime Ripken and Gywnn represented a throwback to an age when players understood how lucky they were to get to play professional baseball or other sports.
Ripken, one of four children, grew up 30 miles outside of Baltimore and was named for his father. Cal Ripken senior played, coached and managed in the Orioles organization for more than 40 years. In the three books he has penned, Ripken repeatedly emphasizes his upbringing, his close relationship to his father, and the mythical qualities of hard work and devotion to family he sees in both in his personal life and professional career.
“He planted a seed and tried to make it grow,” writes Ripken in Get in the Game. “Dad exposed me to baseball through his own love of the game. He enjoyed every minute of his career and it showed whenever he threw a baseball, picked up a bat or made out a lineup card. Baseball was fun for him and as his son, I couldn’t help but notice. When my father was having fun, I wanted to have fun with him.”
Ripken’s books are short treatises on his work ethic and the value he sees in toughing through life’s daily pressures. As with his 1997 book The Only Way I Know, Ripken continues to spread a message he says he learned from his father that diligence and perseverance “just showing up” was a basic duty people had in life and is the key ingredient for happiness.
“I believe that, over the long haul, holding yourself personally accountable helps you succeed whether it’s in baseball, business or life. If it’s always somebody else’s fault, you end up never solving your problems. But if you focus on your own performance, rather than blaming outside forces or other people for your failures, you have a chance to get better,” writes Ripken in Get In the Game.
Ripken’s main emphasis is on taking action. He writes that in his life he has often seen players and people in the business world plan, prepare and think to the expense of taking action.
“Strategy is important ... but you can only plan so much,” writes Ripken in Get In The Game. “At some point, you have to test your plans. I believe that many people are simply afraid to fail, so they don’t even try. Perhaps I was conditioned by baseball, where as a successful hitter, you fail seven out of ten times ...but...my desire to take action has been a big part of my success.”
The Longest Season - a book aimed more at the youth market about struggling through failure - has similar themes and messages as Ripken’s other two books, but utilizes a low point in Oriole and Ripken history - the start of the 1988 season and the Orioles record losing streak of 21 straight games.
“Even with a 12-0 loss to start the ’88 season, Cal Ripken, Jr. had plenty of reasons to love being a Baltimore Oriole. He was playing alongside his brother Bill, and his father, Cal Sr., was managing the team. They’d win the next one. But the Orioles didn’t win their next game, or the next, and soon what was supposed to be a dream season for Cal slid into a nightmare of losses no one saw coming,” states the book’s introduction.
As with The Only Way I Know, both Get In the Game: 8 Elements of Perseverance That Make the Difference and The Longest Season are primarily autobiographical sketches of Ripken’s life in baseball, using the game and his experiences to offer practical counsel on how to focus and solve problems. They are words of advise from baseball’s modern “Iron man” and one of the few people modern America can generally agree on when the term “hero” is mentioned.
“It’s a process. First come the words. Then you start to understand. You take some of the suggestions and try them out. Some of them work for you. Some don’t. But always you ask yourself, ‘How do I apply it? How do I apply it? How do I apply it’, said Ripken.”