STREAK? WHAT STREAK?
The best way to appreciate Cal Ripken is to look past his Ironman
Cal Ripken is the kind of meticulous person who wears a digital
wristwatch during pregame batting and fielding practice. So when
he failed to show for our lunch date on June 7, 1993, I knew
something was up. He was at home, alternately icing a sprained
right medial collateral ligament and gingerly walking back and
forth in his driveway. Never mind lunch. The Streak was about to
Ripken had played in 1,790 consecutive games until that
afternoon, a number doomed to be as forgotten as Everett Scott's
1,307 in the long shadow cast by Lou Gehrig's 2,130. Naturally
Ripken, who had injured his knee in a bench-clearing brawl the
previous day, played for the Orioles that night. He didn't even
miss infield practice.
I thought about that day last week when Ripken announced that
he'll retire at the end of this season. I imagined a Ripken
without the record 2,632 consecutive games, as one might Rodin
without The Thinker or Ben Franklin without the kite. What
emerged was a fuller, more accurate appreciation of a master, of
Ripken as one of the alltime greats. Beloved as he is, Ripken is
even more than he seems.
July 1, 2001
You start with this: Ripken is the second-best shortstop in
baseball history, after Honus Wagner. Ernie Banks, Ripken's
nearest peer, played only eight full seasons at short and
finished with more games at first base. Ripken hit the most home
runs as a shortstop (345), turned the second-most double plays
(1,565), tied with Omar Vizquel for fewest errors in a season
(three in 1990) and revolutionized the position.
Baseball never had seen anyone at shortstop like Ripken, an
athletic, 6'4" power hitter, until manager Earl Weaver installed
him there in 1982. Ripken hit 28 home runs that year. For the
first time, a generation of young players--one that included Nomar
Garciaparra, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez--grew up thinking the
shortstop template included size and power.
"He gave me hope that as a bigger shortstop, you can find
opportunities," Rodriguez says. "Who knows? If Cal was never
around, maybe guys like me wouldn't be around either."
Ripken gave me a 15-minute dissertation on taking cutoff throws.
I was enthralled by his passion even more than by his knowledge.
In his time baseball has never known a better ambassador. His
commitment to youth baseball, including giving $9 million for a
baseball complex in his hometown of Aberdeen, Md., ensures that
his contributions will endure. What can matter more than that?
So take away the Streak. It's incidental to measuring the
greatness of his career. The real beauty of Ripken isn't that he
played the game every day. It's that he played it so well and
with such dignity. --Tom Verducci
Sold Short: Four Underrated Shortstops
Bill Dahlen, 1891-1911
Slick gloveman ranks second in career putouts (4,856), behind
Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville, and third in assists (7,505),
behind Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparicio.
Luke Appling, 1930-43, 1945-50
Old Aches and Pains manned White Sox infield for 20 seasons,
batting .300 or better in 16 of them and setting records (since
broken) for games played and double plays.
Arky Vaughn, 1932-43, 1947-48
Lifetime .318 average is second among shortstops to that of
mentor Honus Wagner's .328.
Barry Larkin, 1986-present
Overshadowed first by Ripken, then by Garciaparra, Jeter and
Rodriguez, Larkin was the most consistent shortstop of the
1990s, when he batted .303 while winning three Gold Gloves and
an MVP award.
THE HALL OF FAKES
The Golden Richards saga (page 138) is only the latest in the
rich tradition of pretenders passing themselves off as pro
--Last year an as-yet-unidentified man posed as Heisman Trophy
winner Danny Wuerffel to obtain a $16,000 line of credit at a
New Jersey Home Depot. Employees later became suspicious when
they noticed the applicant had misspelled Destin, Fla., where
Wuerffel lives. Apparently the fact that the man was slender and
black--Wuerffel is 6'1", 212 pounds and white--didn't raise
--Christopher Camp, 21, last year addressed a Florida elementary
school assembly as Marlins pitcher Bill Jones. Teachers were
perplexed when "Jones" could not answer basic questions about
the club, and they discovered the next day that there was no
such Marlin. "He seemed a little dense," said principal Joel
Armstrong, "but that's not unusual with some ballplayers."
--William McMullen, a high school football coach in Rochester,
Mass., passed himself off as Notre Dame All-America halfback Nick
Eddy, including to his wife and son, for 20 years before the real
Eddy got wind of the impostor in 1999 and blew the whistle. Said
McMullen, who created the alter ego during an interview for a job
at a manufacturing plant, "I took a left turn when I should have
taken a right turn."
--Kevin Winn, 24, posed as Red Sox catcher John Marzano during a
1990 casting call for the film Other People's Money. Winn signed
autographs and regaled the crowd with insider stories about the
Sox, including an account of outfielder Dwight Evans crying on
Marzano's shoulder the day he was released by Boston.
--In the late '80s and early '90s British career criminal
Jonathan Kern sometimes took the identity of former Formula One
driver Jonathan Palmer to duck charges at hotels and obtain
fancy courtesy cars. Said Elizabeth Grzeszczyk, a Connecticut
woman who was romantically involved with "Palmer" before
learning the truth, "I noticed he wasn't a very good driver."
If there's ever a good time to be color-blind, it's during the
NBA draft, in which Crayola is better represented than the ACC.
Where do the draftees' wild suits come from? In the past, many
were fit for their threads by Davis for Men in Chicago while at
predraft camp. Now, says Davis's manager, Steve Palazzolo, fewer
players are coming to him for his suits (which go for $1,200 and
up) because agents haven't been fronting clothes money the way
they used to. Instead, Palazzolo says, about half the players at
this year's draft were suited up for free by young tailors
looking to benefit from the publicity. Says Palazzolo, "When
someone's making something free for you, you go for it."
As for notorious draft night fashion statements, Charles Barkley
(maroon jacket with maroon and white diagonal tie, 1984), Chuck
Person (white tails, '86) and Samaki Walker ('96, left) come to
mind. Perhaps the most outrageous suit to hit the NBA draft
runway was Jalen Rose's fire-engine-red pinstriped number in
'94. "From that day," says TNT reporter Craig Sager, no
shrinking violet himself when it comes to color combos, "I knew
I had to tone down my clothes so I wouldn't clash."
Wheels on Reels
With all the recent autocentric movies--The Fast and the Furious
just the latest--we asked drivers to name their favorite racing
films and chase scenes.
Gil de Ferran, CART: "The best car-chase scenes are in the 007
movies. Cars splitting in half, going down the steps of the
Eiffel Tower, doing 360s in the air--can you imagine how many
cars they destroy trying to get those shots?"
Paul Tracy, CART: "Le Mans, with Steve McQueen. The footage was
great, and McQueen did his own driving."
Sarah Fisher, IRL: "In Gone in 60 Seconds, when Nicolas Cage and
Angelina Jolie steal the Mustang. That car looked really fun to
Rusty Wallace, Winston Cup: "Bullitt. Those hot rods running
through San Francisco were wild. They made me wonder what it
would be like to run wide-ass open in the streets like that."
Dario Franchitti, CART: "Grand Prix, with James Garner. The
access they had and the up-close shots of the cars from the
1960s--the movie has some priceless footage. Also, in Double
Jeopardy there's a scene where Ashley [Judd, Franchitti's
fiancee] wrecks a pickup truck. That was a little close to real
life, though. She's done that to a couple of my cars."
The Prince Classic
When it debuted in 1976, the Prince Classic was anything but.
Cartoonishly oversized, the Classic was a revolutionary
implement that would change the game. The lightweight frame
would let hackers serve as fiercely as Roscoe Tanner. A sweet
spot so large it could induce hyperglycemia meant that even an
ill-struck forehand could be strafed past an opponent, and the
snowshoe-sized head made every ball seem retrievable. A
little-known 16-year-old named Pam Shriver (left) clutched a
Classic in the U.S. Open final in 1978. A few years later yours
truly used his $70 high-tech wand to try to knock Andy Bonser
from the top of the Southern Indiana 12-and-unders.
The Classic was the brainchild of eccentric engineer Howard Head,
who figured he couldn't go wrong marketing a tennis racket with a
110-square-inch face, more than 50% larger than that of the
competition. Suddenly suckers like me helped Prince account for
one third of the rackets sold in the U.S. As I gushed to my
brother, Gerald, the contrast between my Classic and his wooden
Jack Kramer was "the difference between a five-speed and a
All that power came at a price. The ball felt as if it had been
launched from a trampoline. Touch was a mere abstraction. Kick
serves could be better executed with a jackhammer. Shriver never
achieved greatness with the Prince Classic, and as for me, even
wielding a racket nearly as big as I was, I got my butt kicked by
Andy Bonser. --L. Jon Wertheim
Toronto mayor Mel Lastman, for saying he feared going to Kenya
to lobby African IOC members on behalf of his city's 2008 Olympic
bid. Lastman had told The Toronto Star, "I just see myself in a
pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me."
In later statements Lastman called the remarks "inappropriate"
and "the wrong thing to say."
By the government of Alberta, a new lottery, the proceeds of
which will provide about $650,000 a year to each of the
province's two NHL teams, the Flames and the Oilers. Officials of
the clubs had hoped that the government assistance would replace
the $4 million per year the teams had averaged in expansion fees
for the last three seasons but will not be getting next year.
Three models of Nike shoe--the Jordan Trunner LX, the Jordan
Trunner 2000 Mid and the Jordan Trunner Bubble--from the
Baltimore city jail system, after prison workers found that
inmates were fashioning weapons from the shoes' steel and
Josh Maravich, at LSU. The 6'3" son of Pistol Pete, who as a
Tiger in 1969-70 set the NCAA record for single-season scoring
(44.5 points per game), will join the basketball team as a
By the Rangers to the first 18,000 fans 15 and under who
attended the June 20 game at The Ballpark in Arlington, the
first issue of the comic book Texas Rangers in Dangerland,
featuring Ken Caminiti, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez and Ivan
Rodriguez as superheroes who battle the forces of evil.
Bill Walton, into the Grateful Dead Hall of Honor. The
basketball Hall of Famer, who in 1996 was named one of the NBA's
50 greatest players, called this latest laurel "as great an
honor as I have ever received."
Last week the Cubs said they'll add rows of seats--and maybe sell
naming rights--to the Wrigley Field bleachers. That's not the only
bleacher tampering that has people up in arms. For its film
adaptation of the classic 1977 play Bleacher Bums that chronicled
life in the Wrigley stands (right), Showtime has changed the name
of the venue to Lakeview Park and the home team from the Cubs to
the Bruins (Major League Baseball reportedly took issue with the
play's gambling scenes). The changes have one of the play's
authors a little bummed. "Bleacher Bums was written out of love
for the loyalty of a true Chicago Cubs fan," says Dennis Franz,
the NYPD Blue star who cut his acting chops with Chicago's
Organic Theater Company. "It's a true story about a specific
group of people who we found day after day sitting in the
bleachers. To make this a generic team in a generic ballpark is
stripping away some of the reality of the play, and some of the
Now that he has wrapped up his second NBA title, Shaquille
O'Neal is wrapping up his fifth CD, Shaquille O'Neal Presents
His Superfriends, Volume I. Among the amigos lending a hand are
rappers Mos Def, Dr. Dre and Talib Kweli, and rockers Nick Hexum
and Chad Sexton of 311. The CD will be released on Sept. 11....
Need more evidence that bowling is hot? In August Comedy Central
will debut Let's Bowl, in which two contestants with a real-life
dispute agree to settle it on the lanes. Says creator Tim Scott
(Mystery Science Theater 3000), "Bowling is the one noncontact
sport that really lends itself to one-on-one confrontation.
There's a high razz factor, with everyone sitting around with
nothing to do but comment."
Amount cut by Florida governor Jeb Bush from the 2002 state
budget that had been earmarked for Florida's five college
football bowl games.
Days that a 20-foot inflatable duck went missing after being
stolen from a Davenport, Iowa, parking lot, where it had been
placed to advertise the Great Quad City Duck Race.
Bids through Sunday on the title sponsorship of the PGA Tour's
B.C. Open, which went up for auction on eBay on June 18 with a
minimum opening offering of $1.1 million.
Increase for WUSA teams over their average attendance when they
host Mia Hamm's Washington Freedom.
Moose who wandered onto a Worcester, Mass., Little League field,
causing the game in progress to be postponed.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
The NBA fined the Magic for giving $50,000 to Grant Hill's
favorite charity, Seniors First, calling the donation a salary-cap
"Bullitt made me want to run wide-ass open in the streets."
They Said It
VP of broadcasting for NASCAR, which is seeking more prime-time
TV references to stock car racing: "We're finding out about
getting into the [production] process so that Ally McBeal can
talk about going to Daytona in a natural way."