BALTIMORE - Cal Ripken Jr. will forever be known as the Iron Man, a fitting title for the most durable athlete in the rich history of the sport known as America's Pastime.
The nickname captures the perseverance of the former Baltimore Orioles star, who played in 2,632 consecutive games from 1982-98. It would be an injustice, however, to summarize the spectacular 21-year career of Calvin Edwin Ripken Jr. solely by "The Streak."
In assessing Ripken's affect on baseball, his peers and the fans who cheered for him, there are two words more appropriate than Iron & Man: awe and respect. It wasn't so much that he participated in 2,632 games; it's how he played them.
"You are who you are, and you hope your actions show who you are. But at the same time, I worry about what the kids pick up from the game," Ripken said. "You're representing the game, your team and the organization at the same time, as well as yourself. In looking back, I'm pretty proud that kids looked at me in a certain way."
So did his peers.
Former San Diego Padres standout Tony Gwynn, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame with Ripken today, acknowledged his friend's contribution to baseball in a video tribute during the Orioles' send-off ceremony to Ripken on Tuesday.
"You epitomize to me what is good about the game," Gwynn told Ripken. "The way you went about your business, the way you played the game and, more importantly, the way you dealt with people. You set a great example for all of us."
Ripken rarely missed infield practice or batting practice. And, of course, he never skipped a game for nearly 17 years.
"I don't think Cal Ripken really conditioned himself to play in 2,632 consecutive games. He conditioned himself to play baseball when the ballclub needed him," said former Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey, the MVP of the 1983 World Series.
"Whether he did it every single day or not, it's insignificant. It's a great statistic to have because it shows how tough he was. But Cal put up the numbers. He was there in the clutch when you needed him."
Ripken, who is owner of the Augusta GreenJackets, retired in 2002 as one of seven players in major league history with more than 400 home runs and 3,000 hits. He won two MVP awards, was the 1982 rookie of the year, won two Gold Gloves and was named to the All-Star team an AL-record 19 times.
"He revolutionized baseball," Dempsey said. "A guy that big and strong, playing shortstop and playing it the way he did. He was smart. He knew the hitters. He thought about the game, he positioned himself well. That's why he's a Hall of Famer. Because he played hard every day for his entire career."
Ripken's consecutive games streak might never be broken, but that's not the only record he owns that just might last forever. In 1990, he made only three errors at shortstop over 161 games. Along the way, he set a record at the position with 95 consecutive errorless games and 428 successive errorless chances.
"Not everybody knows what a good shortstop he really was," said Earl Weaver, Ripken's first manager and member of the Hall of Fame.
BY THE NUMBERS
When: Today, 1:30-4:30 p.m.
Where: National Baseball Hall of Fame; Cooperstown, N.Y.
Television: ESPN Classic