Cal Ripken, Jr. is Profiled by Investor’s Business Daily

Cal Ripken Wields An Iron Will While Winning In Baseball

By Bucky Fox | Read online at Investors.com

Cal Ripken’s business is baseball. He powered through 21 years as a Baltimore Oriole. Now he empowers young players with the Ripken Experience, one of his fields of dreams.

As a major leaguer, Ripken played in 2,632 straight games, a streak through 17 seasons that landed him a tag for the ages: Iron Man.

Now he runs a minor league team in his hometown of Aberdeen, Md., that links his nickname to that of his old club: the IronBirds.

Plenty of Ripken’s other honors come in metal: two American League Most Valuable Player trophies, including one from the world champion 1983 season; two Gold Gloves for top fielding at shortstop; and a plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y., after entering the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.

“I really break my career moments into two categories: personal moments and baseball moments,” Ripken, 57, told IBD. “My favorite baseball moment, for sure, was catching the final out of the 1983 World Series. It was a simple little humpback line drive, but it represented the culmination of an incredible season for the team and was a wonderful celebration.

“My favorite personal moment was (game No. 2,131, setting the consecutive-game record). It was such a buildup during the season, but when the actual night came, it became very personal with friends, family and so many familiar faces in the crowd.”

Jeff Idelson got to know Ripken while working in public relations with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees before becoming president of the Hall of Fame. “For Cal, the streak was about perseverance,” he said. “He didn’t play baseball with a thought of the streak. It was about going to work every day without taking time off.

“You go back to Rick Sutcliffe’s comment while pitching for the Orioles: ‘When I’m pitching I need the best shortstop behind me.’ Cal wanted to be there for him and his other teammates. He was great at being prepared with his job. Like anyone who stands out in an organization, he was laser-focused, about being the best in the field.”

Standing Tall At Shortstop

At 6-foot-4, Ripken towers among all-time shortstops, a position name that fits, since so many have been of shorter stature — for agility. He’s ranked second among shortstops only to Honus Wagner by AXS, Athlon Sports, CBS Sports and Bleacher Report. “He may have had the strongest arm ever at the position,” says CBS Sports, while Bleacher Report comments: “Because (the streak) is so utterly incomprehensible, it actually overshadows Ripken’s performance exploits. That’s a difficult thing to do, especially given that he smacked 3,184 hits and smashed 431 home runs to go with 1,647 runs and 1,695 runs batted in. Among shortstops, Ripken ranks first or second in all four of those categories.”

Said Idelson: “When you look at defense, offense, leadership, longevity, Cal is probably in a class of his own at shortstop.”

Ripken’s streak is all the more stunning considering Major League Baseball’s injury epidemic. The Los Angeles Dodgers led all teams with 7,169 games missed, from 2010 to 2016, due to hurt players. And this season alone, the New York Mets have been dragged down by 20 wounded warriors on the disabled list, from fireballer Noah Syndergaard to slugger Yoenis Cespedes.

That’s now. During Ripken’s streak, other players made 5,045 trips to the disabled list.

“I had good genes, that’s for sure,” Ripken said. “I always recovered really well from the day-to-day grind of the season and, in several cases, from more significant injuries. The streak was really born out of a very simple and honest approach. Dad always taught me to show up at the ballpark each and every day ready to play, and if the manager believes you are one of the nine guys who can help the team win that day, he knows he can count on you and will put you in the lineup. That’s simply how the streak started and grew over the years.”

Maybe a game on May 30, 1982, didn’t seem so crucial. But after sitting one out, he played that day — and wouldn’t miss another one until Sept. 20, 1998.

He stayed on course despite playing in the middle infield, home to serious foot traffic. Take the 444th game of the streak. It came on April 10, 1985, and while covering on a pickoff play, Ripken turned his ankle when his spikes caught on the bag. The ankle ballooned and pained him, but couldn’t bench him.

A few years later, Ripken charged into a fight on the mound and twisted his knee. This almost killed the streak at 1,790 games, but he bounced back the next day.

“He had to overcome game injuries that he managed to work through,” Idelson said. “He managed the pain, had some luck and stayed on top of a position where he had to see the base runner coming at him.”

Cal played through a hospital ward’s worth of other wounds: slipped disk, hyperextended elbows, dislocated fingers, head-jarring from bean balls.

Like Father, Like Son

That toughness came from his dad, Cal Ripken Sr., a minor league catcher who wouldn’t let wounds like a bloody finger sideline him. “Nothing could get him out of there,” recalled Earl Weaver, the Orioles’ Hall of Fame manager. “He was like the hardest piece of stone on the planet.”

Noted Cal Jr. in his book “Get in the Game”: “You’d think that, by playing all out all the time, I would have increased my chances of sustaining a serious injury. In fact, the opposite was true. That approach actually helped me persevere through every moment, every game, every season.”

Injuries weren’t all that tested Cal Ripken Jr. Just five years after winning it all, the Orioles sank to the depths. They started a record-low 0-21, amid which Cal Sr. got the ax as manager. And yet “I never missed a game in 1988,” wrote his son, “even though it would have been easy to ask for a day off. We lost 107 games that year and finished dead last. But you know what? I was still playing baseball. And I loved it.”

Ripken grew up in Maryland and in the early 1970s sped on and off the field beside Cal Sr., manager of the minor league team in Asheville, N.C.

Major In The Minors

When summers ended, Cal Jr. would return to school in Aberdeen. Then in 1978 the Orioles drafted him. Off to Bluefield, W.Va., he went to play in the rookie-level Appalachian League.

Now he’s back in the minors as a major player. He bought the IronBirds, an Orioles affiliate of the Class A New York-Penn League, for $3 million and moved it from Utica, N.Y., to Aberdeen’s new Ripken Stadium in time for the 2002 season.

That’s just part of the business lineup for the man who’s built a fortune of $75 million, according to CelebrityNetWorth.com.

His Ripken Baseball is a privately held company, the revenue of which he declines to broadcast, although he points to 575 seasonal and 75 full-time employees. The firm runs complexes for weekend kids’ tournaments and longer baseball camps.

With his emphasis on youth, it’s no wonder that the baseball loop named for another Maryland giant — the Babe Ruth League — honors him with a Cal Ripken Division, for kids 4 to 12.

“We are very interested in growing in the youth baseball space,” Ripken said. “The three tournament destination sites that we call the Ripken Experience are in our hometown of Aberdeen; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Pigeon Forge, Tenn. This is where our passion is and where the future of the company is, and we are actively looking for investment partners and other locations for these significant complexes across the country.

“As for minor league baseball, we began to divest from that business several years ago. Today the only team we own is the IronBirds. We are looking for a partner there as well to take over the majority interest in the club. We will maintain a minority interest because Aberdeen is our home and it is important we stay involved.”

Such maneuvers keep Ripken on a more mental path than when he ran out grounders. “There are ups and downs in business,” he said, “and you need to keep plugging away and learning in order to improve and get it right. Also, being a good teammate and building a good team around you are essential in business and baseball.

“I was a novice in the business world, and literally the day after I played my last game in 2001 I had to put on a suit and find a team to play at Ripken Stadium. Over the years I have gotten much more comfortable as a business owner and I really enjoy the role. I try to surround myself with smart people who I can trust.

“It seems like you never stop learning or facing challenges in business, and I find that energizing.”

Idelson is impressed with Ripken’s grasp of business: “He strikes me as special, with a unique ability to listen. He’s more intent on listening than speaking. When you think of the great businessmen or women and their top traits, listening is one of them. As Bill Veeck, the old baseball owner who is one of my heroes, said, ‘You can learn a lot from listening.’

“Cal has the makeup of someone who can run an organization, whether as a manager or executive, like Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Earl Weaver, John Schuerholz. Cal led on the ball field and translates that into the business world — much like Joe Morgan and Bob Feller, both pretty good at business.”

In 1987, five years into the streak, Ripken married Kelly Greer on the way to having two children, Rachel and Ryan, before divorcing in 2016.

In 1992, Ripken was honored — for helping Baltimore’s community — with awards named for Roberto Clemente and Lou Gehrig. “Being a real part of my hometown, as opposed to being an outsider, pulled my personal and business aspects of my life together in a way that made them virtually indistinguishable,” Ripken wrote.

He cracked the “Iron Man” mark on Sept. 6, 1995, in full drama. With 50,000 fans at Camden Yards and a national TV crowd looking on, he blasted a home run in fourth inning. The next inning made the game official, giving Cal the streak record at 2,131. Right after the Orioles finished off the California Angels 4-2, the party shifted into high gear, with Joe DiMaggio taking the microphone: “Wherever my former teammate Lou Gehrig is today, I’m sure he’s tipping his cap to you, Cal Ripken.”

Amid the celebration, the Major League Baseball Players Association awarded Ripken $75,000 for setting the record. “I looked at it as an opportunity to go back to Aberdeen and parlay the gift into a small baseball complex that my hometown and I could be proud of.”

Over the next decade, his field of Aberdreams turned into Cal Sr.’s Yard, a top youth-baseball facility funded by the Cal Sr. Foundation for disadvantaged kids, and Ripken Stadium.

Ripken’s Keys

Played in 2,632 straight games from 1982 to 1998, amassed 3,184 hits and swatted 431 home runs on the way to entering the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Overcame: Injuries that threatened the streak.

Lesson: Keep swinging.

“If people believe you have strong principles, are sound in mind and body and are incorruptible, they’ll chose to work with you over others.”

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