Gwynn, Ripken take New York by storm
Newest Hall of Fame inductees proud to represent the sport
NEW YORK -- The Class of 2007 may be the most eloquent in history, as Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn began to prove on Wednesday during their first full day as Hall of Famers.It was a press conference for the ages in a ballroom at the swanky Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, featuring the pair praising each other and answering questions from all comers. The main event went almost 40 minutes before the pair split off for separate individual question and answer periods with the print and electronic media. It's just the beginning of the tour, which will climax on July 29 in Cooperstown when they are inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Ripken on Gwynn, who as a 20-year veteran of the San Diego Padres, was an eight-time National League batting champion, hitting .338 in his career: "When I think of Tony, I think about an overall love of the game and a special passion for hitting. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to watch him more because we were in different leagues. I saw him in All-Star Games and on a tour of Japan. But I think he thoroughly loves practice more than the game. He worked on his craft and was clearly one of the game's best hitters." Gwynn on Ripken, who as a 21-year member of the Baltimore Orioles, shattered Lou Gehrig's record by playing in 2,632 consecutive games: "That's why Cal is Cal. To me, he's articulate. He played the game with passion and he played it with fire. It gave you the impetus to do the same thing. We all know about his exploits on the field, but the thing that kind of showed me the way is how he presented himself, and you're hearing that today. The most impressive thing for me about Cal Ripken is his ability to deal with people, not just people in the game, but everyday people." Interestingly enough, there were no questions about Mark McGwire, the A's and Cardinals slugger, who was strongly rebuffed on Tuesday by members of the Baseball Writers of America, who gave him only 23.5 percent of the vote, naming him on 128 of a record 545 ballots. To be elected to the Hall, a former player needs 75 percent, a figure Ripken (98.53 percent) and Gwynn (97.6 percent) far surpassed. Ripken received the third-highest percentage of votes (tops for a position player) in history, while Gwynn placed seventh. Ripken's 537 and Gwynn's 532 were the top two vote totals in history. Those figures are a testament to the popularity of both players, not only on the field, but in their dealings with the media.
"This is a kind of validation," Gwynn explained on Tuesday during his conference call. "The kind of player I was doesn't get a whole lot of credit. When you make the decision to be that type of player, you'd better be pretty consistent and you better do a lot of it. Plus, I think people felt I handled it the right way. I tried not only to play the game the right way, but answer the questions the writers might have."Every team needs a go-to guy. And I thought that was part of my job. When you look at the voting results, I think it's a combination of those things. I did the craft very well and at the same time, I was very upfront with the press and dealt with them face-to-face. And I didn't run from it." Both said on Wednesday that the statistical figures that got them into the Hall were not the most important things. Gwynn never won a World Series title or the National League Most Valuable Player Award, but his eight NL batting titles tied Honus Wagner for the most in history. In addition, No. 19 was a 15-time NL All-Star who had 3,141 hits, batted .338 and won five Gold Gloves as a right fielder. Ripken, a shortstop and third baseman, didn't miss a game from May 30, 1982, to Sept. 20, 1998. He had 3,184 hits -- including 431 home runs -- batted .276, was twice the AL MVP (1983 and 1991), was a 19-time AL All-Star, and won two Gold Gloves. The pair at the front table on Wednesday represented 6,325 Major League hits. "The most since 1982, when Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron sat up here," said Dale Petroskey, the Hall of Fame president, referring to another pair of players who combined for 6,714 hits. But Gwynn and Ripken said it was always team over self. "My thing was, 'What you could do during the course of a game that could help your team win?'" Ripken said. "If you did that, individual accomplishments would take care of themselves." "That's exactly it," Gwynn said. "I never worried about how many batting titles I was going to win. I just tried to do whatever I had to do. I didn't set out to do that, I just wanted to win a world championship. That never happened. I never won an MVP. So what's left is eight batting titles and a .338 lifetime average."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.