At Bat with the ‘Iron Man’
Real Virtues of a Real Hall of Famer
Baseball’s Black Eye is Fading
By Harry M. Covert
It was not an old-time fire and brimstone revival meeting, an over-zealous political rally of bushwa nor a championship celebration.
I’m writing of a recent St. Valentine’s Day love affair with Cal Ripken Jr. at Frederick’s downtown Weinberg Center for the Performing Arts.
Without question it was a night to remember for the 1,200-plus audience, many of whom came dressed in baseball caps, uniform shirts and a couple of bats and gloves, most all bearing the logos of the Baltimore Orioles, to meet and hear the Hall of Famer.
It was fun to see moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas wearing shirts emblazoned with the numeral “8” as were their children, probably more so.
Pardon the expression but Cal batted first on the Frederick Speakers Series. He’ll be a tough act to follow. The next “batter” is a former Secretary of State and four-star general who never played infield or walked to the plate.
Despite major league baseball’s black-eye over performance enhancing drugs Cal said he was never involved in such activities. He is happy the embarrassing drugs revelations are quickly fading into the past.
He said the baseball today, at all levels, is in great shape and attitudes have changed to the better. “Today’s youngsters believe the performance drugs are illegal and wrong,” he said. “This is good for society and the game.”
The Oriole legend was every bit as dignified on stage as he was during his 21-year Baltimore career at both the old Memorial Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yard.
His on field accomplishments may be known for scooping up ground balls, hitting home runs and becoming the “Iron Man”. He broke Lou Gehrig’s incredible consecutive game record with his own 2,131 uninterrupted streak that included 500 more.
Today, he’s a busy man. He is a writer of children’s’ books (one book hitting stores later this month), a businessman, a developer of youth leagues and players and has served as a diplomat for the U. S. State Department.
Besides his family, he told the rapt audience, breaking Gehrig’s record was not the milestone of his career. Yes he did get sick during his consecutive streak but his work ethic kept him going. This determination was instilled by his late father, Cal Ripken Sr.
“My greatest thrill,” he said, “was catching the last out of the 1983 World Series. We beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the final game, 5-0,” he said. The championship victory came in Baltimore.
He paid particular tribute to teammates during his playing days including late Manager Earl Weaver. Cal’s shortstop spot was “always temporary” by Weaver. He finished his career at third when Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson retired.
Ripken is encouraged at the future of the game, the country and the up-and-coming people. The most important thing in today’s society is for parents to lead and to educate children, he said.
It was a joy to see Cal’s virtues flowing from the elegant Weinberg stage. Frederick’s population claimed him as its own. He’s not just a living legend in Maryland but everywhere.
Thankfully, we’ll be singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” soon.
This article has appeared in www.TheTentacle.com
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Miss Martin and Lou Gehrig
No. 3, Baseball’s First Iron Man
By Harry M. Covert
Usually on Thursdays in the spring, Miss Martin read Homer’s Iliad to her sixth graders at John W. Daniel School. The windows were raised and we little tykes hoped a breeze would flow through the room. We didn’t have air conditioning in 1950.
Miss Martin favored white tee-shirts all the time and looked exactly like Benjamin Franklin. No kidding. When I look at a $100 bill today, I see her staring right at me. If any of us 30-plus pupils had been caught misbehaving a bit, she didn’t keep us after class, which they could do easily in those days. Instead, she had her own clever punishment — three or four long-division arithmetic problems: dividing long numbers like 899,765,343 by 1487.
This was a challenge to a 10-year-old, especially if you had to turn them in the next morning. We were a bunch of sweet attentive boys and girls, seldom if ever drawing the ire of our teacher who never missed a day.
We loved the Iliad stories as Miss Martin read to us out loud. Usually once a month, she would give a little quiz, not for grades but to see if we were paying attention about Achilles and the Trojan Horse. If we needed a little help with the answers, she could show a soft side and help us.
Miss Martin came to my mind recently when Cal Ripken Jr.visited Frederick, Md.. Gehrig was the Yankees’ famed No. 4, the first iron man who played 2,130 consecutive games from June 1, 1925 to April 30, 1939. This record remained for 61 years until Cal broke it September 19, 1998, at 2,632.
On that day, July 4, 1939 Gehrig was forced to retire because of what we know today as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He died at age 38 in 1941.
In Miss Martin’s class some 63 years ago, I remember vividly as we pulled out the Iliad for our afternoon session. She began in a pleasant reading manner. Today it seems she reached the Trojan Horse part when I slipped in front of my book, the 1942 orange-covered biography of Lou Gehrig. As she droned on, I forgot about the Iliad. I got lost in the story where little Lou went eel fishing for his mother in the World War I era. He’d bring home his catch, his mother would pickle them and then Lou returned to Second Avenue in East Harlem, New York City, to sell the goodies.
I “traveled” that afternoon with Lou as he grew to be a star football player at Columbia and then went on to became the baseball hero of the Yankees.
Suddenly, I heard a voice, “What page are you on?” Miss Martin roared. Naturally I thought she was talking to someone else. I stuttered a bit, tried to sneak Gehrig back in my lap. She kept on,
“Can you tell me about the Trojans?” Fear struck at the moment. My classmates laughed.
In my book that afternoon it was 1932, not with the Greeks. Gehrig had just hit four home runs in a game against the Philadelphia Athletics, the first player to do so in the 20th century.
Miss Martin ordered me to the front of class. She seized my Gehrig book. My penalty was to collect all of the Homer’s Iliad books from the class.
She apparently forgot to give me the long-division problems. The next morning, she allowed us to go to the library. It was Principal Thomas E. Baines who returned the Gehrig book to me. His advice was short and sweet: don’t read it in Miss Martin’s class.”
To this day I’ve never eaten eels. ©