Ripken and Gwynn legacy, plus Aaron's rule

   Seeing all the wire stories this past week about Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn taking their pre-induction tours of the Hall of Fame reminded me about what an extraordinary moment the actual enshrinement must be. I allude, of course, to virtually any ballplayer you might want to name, though of course the subject this year is those two.
   I can’t think of any ballplayers from their era who have consistently shown an appreciation and reverence for the game of baseball than Ripken and Gwynn, so one supposes that their wonderment and awe at this private tour was about as genuine as can be. Gwynn’s attachment to the iconic Ted Williams is well know, and obviously in Ripken’s case, that probably manifests itself with his historical linkage to Lou Gehrig, so it is inevitable that he will be linked in immortality with the Iron Horse just as he was during the latter part of his playing career. Ripken’s enthusiasm for the game of baseball and its history is refreshing and laudable, but it also reminded me of another upper-rung HOFer who has proved to be a Cooperstown MVP in the memorabilia department.
   “I didn’t save anything from when I played, and anything that I ever won is in Cooperstown,” Henry Aaron told me in an interview a couple of years ago. That remembrance popped up as I was writing a feature story for the July issue of our sister publication, Tuff Stuff magazine, that features Hank on the cover and includes the interview inside and another article looking at the tortured fate of Aaron’s final home run ball.
   And he’s not kidding about Cooperstown having “anything that I ever won.” The list of Aaron artifacts at the Hall of Fame is incredible: his 1957 MVP Award and World Series ring; all three of his Gold Gloves; bats from milestone home runs, including Nos. 500, 600 714, 716; his 3,000th-hit bat; more than a dozen milestone home run baseballs, including Nos. 500, 600, 700, 714 and 716; jersey and pants from No. 715; his shoes from Nos. 714, 715 and 716; his cap from No. 600; and third base from No. 715.
   In a day and age when so many ballplayers wind up placing their artifacts in major auctions, it’s almost inspiring to see a donation to the Hall of Fame of such magnitude. “Henry has been very gracious and amazingly generous,” is the way Brad Horn, HOF communications director put it.
   Horn said that the many of the Aaron pieces have come in over a number of years, and that his major awards were donated 20 years ago, roughly five years after Aaron’s induction. A number of the milestone baseballs came from other private collectors, but combined with Aaron’s generosity, have helped make the Aaron presence at the Hall nothing short of spectacular. “He is a player who wanted his legacy preserved here,” Horn added, noting that Aaron is among the most comprehensively represented players in the Hall.

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   As much as I admire Ripken and all that he accomplished over the years, I don’t suppose I will ever be able to shake the notion that the whole consecutive games streak was given a prominence well beyond what should have been accorded.

   This hasn’t graduated all the way to being a pet peeve; I would save that appelation for a similar bit of heroics: the hitting streak. What Ripken managed to do over the course of 15-plus years was extraordinary and certainly a marvelous testament to his work ethic, his durability and his dedication to the game, but ultimately a bit overblown because the point of the game is winning, not simply showing up for work.
   Still, as I noted above, I get a lot more worked about hitting streaks, which are, in my opinion, little more than a parlor trick that was elevated to mythic status by one Joseph Paul DiMaggio. What the Yankee Clipper pulled off that extraordinary summer was an MLB curiosity that was as much the result of timing and the power of the New York media as it was one of the great feats in the history of the game.

   It says here that what Ted Williams accomplished in that remarkable 1941 season was more significant than what Joe did. Here’s the rub: getting a hit in consecutive games doesn’t necessarily benefit the dominant agenda item of winning. Would you rather manage a team with a .276 hitter who somehow managed to discreetly sprinkle those hits out one per game for 30 or 40 games, or a guy who hit .380 but somehow managed to go hitless right smack dab in that hypothetical 40-game stretch.

   And I know it’s considered heresy to question the legitimacy of one of the most legendary “accomplishments” in baseball history, but there it is. And I also know that as quixotic undertakings go, trying to convince baseball fans that Joe’s 56-game streak was no big deal ranks right up there on the futility scale.

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6 thoughts on “Ripken and Gwynn legacy, plus Aaron's rule

  1. Phil on said:

    Being from Detroit and a true Tiger fan, I grew up disliking the Orioles and Yankees, along with the Red Sox. Of course, my love for baseball took place during the AL East days, when the division was deep with competitive teams.

    Cal is a stand-up guy. I think he is good to fans. Of course, he won’t personalize any autographs and Cal charges and ungodly $150 to sign a baseball (inscriptions are an additional charge).

    T.S., you might know the answer to this question. Will Cal possess the lowest batting average of any member in the HOF? Outside of playing in a lot of games consecutively, what else has Cal accomplished of significance? What if we took Cal’s total games played and pro-rated those numbers to other players of the time period who aren’t in the HOF. I wonder what the numbers would look like (guys like Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Bill Madlock, Dale Murphy).

    Just wondering out loud what you think and if this debate has been had within the circles of collectors and industry types.

  2. Dave on said:

    Let me put on my SABR cap.

    I can help with the answer about the batting averages. Cal Ripken Jr had a .276 lifetime batting average, the same exact batting average as Hall of Famer Roy Campanella.

    Below are Hall of Famers(position players) who have a lower batting average than Cal Ripken Jr.

    Ray Schalk
    Johnny Bench
    Gary Carter
    Carlton Fisk
    Bill Mazeroski
    Johhny Evers
    Harmon Killebrew
    Willie McCovey
    Reggie Jackson
    Bid McPhee
    Joe Morgan
    John Ward
    Bobby Wallace
    Joe Tinker
    Ozzie Smith
    Phil Rizzuto
    Pee Wee Reese
    Rabbit Maranville
    Ernie Banks
    Luis Aparicio
    Mike Schmidt
    Brooks Robinson

  3. Dave on said:


    I thought about Trammel and Whitaker while mowing the yard today. I heard that, who chuckled? I came to two conclusions, one is that I wish I had the money to pay somebody to cut my grass. Read on for conclusion #2.

    Seeing that you are a Tigers fan, I take it that you would be naturally rooting for Alan Trammell(had the exact same .276 lifetime batting average as Cal Ripken) and Lou Whitaker to make the Hall of Fame. I also imagine that Cal Ripken’s annual All Star appearances(all 19 of them) probably bumped Alan Trammell off the roster in more than one instance. If Cal Ripken were not playing, Trammell’s All Star Game appearances(6 of them) likely would have more than doubled. Ripken’s 3000 hits and 400 home runs also morphed notions about what a shortstop could be away from the defensive side of the ball. Hall of Fame voters love homers , hits, and magic numbers. There was an artificial offensive bar that was raised for shortstops, this has unfairly hurt Trammell. I expect readers of the blog to generally disagree that Trammell/Whitaker are Hall of Famers but all thoughts and opinions are welcome. I vote for them, with a catch…..

    Individually, Trammell and Whitaker had outstanding careers. Together, they formed one of the most famous and productive combinations in all of baseball history. Their Hall of Fame votes to date have not been encouraging. They seem to always be linked, their stats are amazingly similar, their vote totals will probably rise together or fall together. Is this linkage between the two a positive or negative in regards to the Hall of Fame? Has there ever been a precendent for Hall of Fame induction where, pardon the bad cliche, the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts? Why, as a matter of fact, THERE IS PRECEDENT.

    On July 10, 1910, Chicago Cubs fan (and Sportswriter for the New York Evening Mail) Franklin Pierce Adams had "Baseball’s Sad Lexicon" published. The short little verse became suprisingly very popular across the nation and eventually(almost subconsciously) helped the combination of Joe (don’t call me Tinkers)Tinker , Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance to garner Hall of Fame induction decades later. Individually, they may not have made the Hall of Fame. Voters recognized these three as Hall of Famers as a group more than anything. They were all inducted TOGETHER in 1946. So, THERE IS PRECEDENT. This may be a very unique angle to take on these guys and to promote them relentlessy, something that appears not to have been successfully done to date. There needs to be a cohesive, deliberate grass roots movement on this pair. The focus of energy is best served on the duo and away from Ripken in this instance . Detractors will naturally come out of the woodwork, but so will some supporters. Can you name another double play combo of potential Hall of Famers with their collective offensive and defensive resume? I can’t. It opens the door for a unique campaign, use the link with these two as a positive and run with it. You would be suprised how much influence these campaigns can have.

    I was a member of a group years ago to which a Major League Baseball team came and said that they would like to start to promote one of their retired players for the Hall of Fame, but the team did not have any idea of how to prepare an arguement.You would be suprised how little some of today’s team personnel know about their own franchises’ history. Sad to say, there are also a small number of voters who are not too bright in the baseball history field. The team basically said, this is our guy, make an arguement for him that we can use. A detailed analysis was prepared, delivered and the promotion campaign began. The players credentials even suprised the team’s brass. We assisted in lobbying where proper. After a few years with a patient and unique campaign , the vote totals slowly raised and the player was eventually inducted. The success of such a campaign is not a given, but you would be suprised of the potential impact of such an effort. I can’t reveal the player/team or I am subject to the bamboo shoot under the finger nail treatment, and that hurts.

    Look at the Hall of Fame voters as dominoes, the job becomes easier once one falls , and another. Dominoes can unfortunately fall the other way too. The difference with the Hall of Fame "voting dominoes" is that some dominoes carry more weight than other dominoes, and can help speed up support. Some dominoes die and new dominoes are added. Sparky Anderson and Al Kaline are voting members/dominoes, hummmmmm. The voting structure has a political nature, votes are sometimes traded, chips are not always cashed in right away……the voting landscape is in perpetual motion. This landscape has to be first understood in order to be properly addressed and lobbied.

    There is also a breeze(I would not call it a wind) that recognizes defense in the voting process. Dave Concepcion’s supporters have felt this breeze. There are a few Big Red Machine Dominoes in place. Hummmmmmmm, Concepcion supporters like that. This new defense appreciation factor(Jim Kaat likes that too) could also benefit the Trammell/Whitaker duo but the next ten years are crucial. On the negative side, there has been a bit of a more exclusionary attitude being promoted by few , vocal, newer Hall of Famers. I support more of an inclusionary baseline of thought, but I am simply a fan(and collector). The possibilty of posthumous induction makes me cringe as if I were chewing on a ball of tin foil in a mouthful of filled cavities. I cannot get the nagging notion out of my head that the Hall of Fame will recognize Pete Rose in this posthumous manner. Rose is already on record saying that he would not accept the award in this fashion , but then again, what other choice would he have? Would the Rose Estate sue the Hall of Fame? Maybe a pre taped video statement from the grave? Uggghhh. I vote for Pete Rose, the Hall is not filled with perfect people, Pete has certainly paid a price, he has character flaws, he also has quite a baseball resume. Pete Rose’s ongoing antics have even chipped away at some of his own campaign base.

    Bert Blyleven has a campaign going on, it is not that subtle. My feeling is that he will ultimately be successful. I would vote for him.

    Another one of your Tigers from that era voters are looking at more closely is Jack Morris. I would take him over Don Sutton or Phil Niekro( I am just picking these two for arguement’s sake-we love you Phil and Don!) every day of the week if I had to win a big game.

    T.S. religiously covers the Hall of Fame debate in great detail in SCD when that time of the year comes around. He has his plainly stated favorites in addition to, well, an obvious accumulation of "industry type" knowledge. I always enjoy reading the insightful columns. I am sure he has some information and thoughts he is willing to share in the blog format.

    In regards to collectors, Trammell is awesome, my experience is that he is a great signer. Whitaker is good too. The last time I sent something to Sweet Lou, he even sent an autographed business card, I think he was selling tuxedos or some clothing line. If they get into the Hall, they should be well tailored on induction day.

    Last but not least, Happy Memorial Day to all you veterans. Thank you.

  4. Dave on said:

    On a different note, that picture of Cal Ripken makes it look like he has added some weight. His fellow inductee Tony Gwynn has also packed on the pounds although not at a Kirby Puckett rate.

    It is always amazing to me see some former athletes that kept in good shape for a living seem to blow up after their career. I know he is older, but Paul Hornung is an absolutely huge man nowadays. I just him at a show, he looked very unhealthy and kind of has a waddling gait. Another man who I saw photos of recently that shocked me was Nolan Ryan, I almost could not believe it was him.

    In regards to physical health post playing career, I expect to see a slew of stories in future of former athletes whose bodies are breaking down due to the adverse effects of steroids. Initially, these stories will have veiled inferences that other medical conditions are the cause. Study the after effects of steroid abuse, you will see these effects pop up in some pretty sad stories down the road. Some athletes are also using steroids post playing career, some of the steroid use is necessary but most of the use is not medically necessary.

  5. Dave on said:

    Plenty of time to prepare those Tiger’s arguements. Trammell is still hanging on the ballot but if I am reading the Hall of Fame rules correctly, Sweet Lou cannot be considered again until about 2015(20 years post retirement). For Trammell, 2016 will mark 20 years post retirement. A veterans committee, whatever form it may have by then, is most likely the best hope for these two.

    I looked at the Tinker-Evers-Chance stats more in depth. If those guys made it in as a trio, a duo arguement for Whitaker/Trammell is not a stretch by any means.

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