The exception to the rule

Ripken Originally uploaded by thetejon

There are some unwritten rules about baseball, both for the players and the fans. You don’t talk to the pitcher during a no-hitter. You don’t walk to or from your seat during an at-bat (Although the clowns in our section at the Nats game the other night didn’t follow this one, not even when the Nats had runners on. I missed a Nats run being scored because an entire family decided they had to get up just then). And you don’t wear a jersey to a game that’s for a team that isn’t involved in the game. Unless it’s a Cal Ripken jersey, as shown in the picture above. You can wear a Cal Ripken jersey to any game, any time, and it is considered perfectly acceptable to punch anyone who makes a disparaging comment. Go ahead and try it – all real baseball fans will have your back. Why, you may ask? That’s a good question. Cal Ripken redefined the position of shortstop. He was 6’4″ and 225 pounds when he played the game. That’s about five inches and 50 pounds more than a shortstop was “supposed” to be. But that’s not why he’s the exception. He made the All Star game 19 straight years. That’s longer than most people play. But that’s not why. He played for his dad, right next to his brother. Wikipedia tells us “His 1991 season is the fourth-greatest in baseball history (second among non-pitchers) as measured by WARP3 at 17.0 wins, bested only by Walter Johnson’s 1913 (18.1 wins), Babe Ruth’s 1932 (18 wins), and Amos Rusie’s 1894 season (17.6 wins).” But that’s not why either. No, Cal Ripken is the exception to any rule you might think of (Like the “don’t elect a guy to an All Star game based on reputation alone) because Cal Ripken saved baseball. Back in 1994, baseball went on strike. It was a horrible time to be a fan. I had just gotten into the game a few years before, following the 1988 Athletics through their crushing World Series defeat before latching onto the Orioles’ glorious 1989 season and never looking back. And then the strike, and no one knew what to do. We all wanted to go back to being fans, but we were sad and angry and didn’t know what to do. Then came 1995. They restarted the season, although a little late. Then, on September sixth, Cal broke the streak. He played in his 2131st game, surpassing Lou Gehrig’s record, one of those “never be broken” records that every sport has. It’s the most memorable sporting event in my life. I got home from work and turned on the game, still wearing my Subway uniform and smelling of mayonnaise and onions. I watched his victory lap, and I listened to one of the longest ovations in sports history (Thanks, Wikipedia, for the recap). All of a sudden, baseball was cool again. Instead of overpaid, uncaring superstars, we had a guy who just went out there, day after day, and played ball. There are always exceptions to the rule – some pitchers will talk about their no-hitter in the sixth. But Cal can always be the exception. In fact, you may not know this, but a genuine Cal Ripken jersey is even considered acceptable attire, even at a black-tie affair. Try this out, too. Remember, anyone who questions your dedication to Cal can be legally punched in the face. Every baseball fan in the room will be right behind you.

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