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Ripken, Gwynn in a league of their own
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Baseball has been my true love since I can remember. (And during the years I can't, my mother kindly reminds me I've loved it since the day I was born, swinging my arms and flailing my hips like the Great Bambino himself.)

Growing up, when I wasn't playing organized baseball I was either watching it on television or I was trading baseball cards with my brother and friends: baseball was life.

On Tuesday, I was once again reminded how great a game it really is when Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Gwynn had a lifetime batting average of .338 during a 20-year span with the San Diego Padres. Ripken set a new standard for shortstops, playing in a major league-record 2,632 consecutive games and hitting 431 home runs for the Baltimore Orioles.

I will never forget watching Tony Gwynn chase Ted Williams and his .400 batting average in 1994. What an exciting season, only to be cut short because of the messy strike. (Gwynn ended the season hitting .394 in 110 games. And I'd like to encourage the notion he would have hit .400, too.)

Nor will I ever forget the following year, when Ripken was closing in on the streak once owned by the iron man himself, Lou Gehrig. And on Sept. 6, 1995, before a nationally-televised audience, it was official: Ripken was the new Iron Man. (Oh, and how could I forget all those goose bumps when he smacked a home run to left field???)

The statistical numbers these two legends generated throughout their playing careers is unequivocally remarkable, as you know.

But do you know what stands out the most to me regarding these two ambassadors of baseball?


Gwynn and Ripken each enjoyed illustrious careers with one organization, quite remarkable in itself. In fact, it's the most impressive "statistic" about them.

Unfortunately, they are part of a dying breed; I would be hard-pressed to say that today a professional baseball player can still enjoy such an extraordinary career while remaining on the same team.

As I mentioned earlier, I used to collect baseball cards. (Maybe this explains why I never really had a girlfriend until my senior year of high school.) My Gwynn and Ripken cards were priceless to me; rarely did I ever trade them away.

Since the years have passed, I now have a greater understanding as to why I felt that way: Gwynn and Ripken left the game in better condition than before they arrived. They didn't rely on fancy commercials and flashy accessories during their exclusive trek to Cooperstown. And they never behaved inappropriately on or off the field. Millions of kids, including myself, looked up to them.

Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. played America's past-time how it should have been played, without ill regrets or excuses.

And their presence in the Hall of Fame will always remind us for the rest of our lives.