Q&A with Cal Ripken
This summer is a little less hectic for Cal Ripken. The Hall of Famer -- he was inducted last August with Tony Gwynn -- will be part of TBS' coverage on July 6th's (2 p.m. ET) MLB All-Star Game Selection Show. SI.com checked in with the TBS analyst this week to get his take on the first half of the season, his first-half MVPs, Josh Hamilton and Chase Utley.
SI: This is a much different summer for you, right?
Ripken: Yeah, I don't have that Hall of Fame thing hanging over me. (laughs). But I have a ton of things going on. There's the amateur side and the professional side of our organization. The professional side is owning minor league teams and development and the amaetur side is building kids' complexes and creating tournament and academy programming. Last year, I think I was worrying and thinking about the Hall of Fame more than I should of because it was such a big thing and it was a lot to take care of. It was a nice celebration. This year I don't have that and it seems like things have clicked back to normal. It doesn't make it any less busy, but it does take some of the anxiety and unknown away.
SI: Who are the best American and National League teams at the moment?
Ripken: The Cubs in the National League. They have a balanced team. And I still like the Red Sox. They've limped a little with injuries to Big Papi and Dice-K, but they have played consistent baseball. Tampa has to be in that argument as well.
SI: How often have you seen the Rays, and would you still call them a surprise?
Ripken: From a team standpoint, you can call them a surprise. You might have been able to project that they were a coming team, but I don't think you could say they would be up on the Red Sox at this stage. They are a young and talented group of guys who have played a real, good team-style of play.
I saw them when they played the Orioles; I compare them a little to our 1989 team. In 1988, we were the world's worst team. We were 0-21 and went through rebuilding with a lot of young and talented guys. The next year, we came together in a developmental first half and we were playing for the pennant at the end. I still don't know, down the stretch, if they have enough experience in the big series or whether they can call on experience to get through a tough series. But I do know it will be interesting to watch.
SI: Will the Yankees make the postseason?
Ripken: I say they do. The Rays will have a lot to say about that and they will be a strong team down the stretch, but I think we know the Yankees can handle the pressure. They are a talented team.
I like Joba Chamberlain as a starter. I thought they should have made him a starter from the beginning and take a little stress off his arm. He's a real valuable guy coming out of the pen and setting up Mariano Rivera, but he's a horse. He can log some innings and as a starting pitcher that is really critical. He seems to have handled the transition and I look forward to him having a good second half. I think the Yankees make it.
SI: Your old teammate, Mike Mussina, is one of the surprising stories in baseball. What other players have surprised you so far?
Ripken: Josh Hamilton jumping out the way he did was a surprise. Not because he couldn't do it, but just to do it at that level and dominate in that fashion. It's been wonderful to see that story. That would be the one I'd pick, but I like the Mike Mussina example because I know him and I'm happy for him. I know how competitive he is, and I know how he makes adjustments in his own game.
On the one hand, it surprises me that he turned it around and has 10 wins. But it doesn't surprise me in other ways because he is constantly trying to figure out how to make adjustments where he can exploit a hitter's weakness. I think the biggest adjustment he made was to slow his change-up down. He had to start mixing his speeds up.
SI: Will Alex Rodriguez break the all-time home run record?
Ripken: I always thought he would break it. He has that ability and desire and need to stay in the best shape he can and continue to play. It doesn't surprise me that he keeps putting up numbers. He and Ken Griffey were two guys I thought would push the 800-homer mark. They came to the big leagues early and they were really good early. Griff just got 600 homers and if he didn't have the string of injuries he had, he would have been pushing that as well.
SI: Last year was your first as an analyst for TBS. Was there a point where you started to feel comfortable?
Ripken: When you are away from the game and busy with other areas, you realize that the world does not revolve around baseball. To stay current is a challenge. This year, I have watched a whole lot more games. Last year, I could not pull out the whole roster of the Diamondbacks or the Rockies. But once the games actually started, I could watch the games and felt more in my element. Interpreting the games and seeing how the games go and what happens in a game, I could pick things up on my own.
It is really impossible for you to be an expert on all 30 teams. I know as a player playing against the American League and occasionally playing an interleague game, you had a perspective for a brief period and your own eyes to actually give you that perspective. Now, you are relying on news sources and trying to watch games archived on MLB.com to get your general knowledge up. That's more of a challenge for me. Watching the games live and being right there is much easier for me.
SI: You got mixed reviews for your television performance. Some people liked your analysis. Other people called you boring or vanilla. Were you aware of how you were being perceived?
Ripken: I think I did all right. I'm not trying to be a star on TV. I am who I am, which I hope comes out. I have a little bit of a different sense than most people know and it takes a while to get used to it.
I don't mind being described as vanilla in certain ways. I think the thing that I bring to the table -- and maybe the personality stuff Harold Reynolds and Dennis Eckersley can take care of -- is an inside analysis to the game. I want to focus on where I can give that information successfully in the small sound bites that you have. That's the biggest challenge. You are looking at something and you have an idea about it but you have to reduce down to a small way to communicate to an audience. As time went on, I felt I got more comfortable with that.
SI: How often are you on the web looking at baseball-centric sites?
Ripken: Well, [my brother] Billy and I have an XM Show on Saturday morning so I'm on MLB.com [which Ripken does some work for] and I cruise around on that. I watch a lot of games archived. I try to fairly regularly read the newspaper and browse news stories.
SI: What haven't you done yet that you want to do?
Ripken: The older you get, the things that you thought you wanted to do when you were younger, you're checking them off your list because you no longer want to them. When I was 18 years old, I wanted to jump out of an airplane and parachute to earth, but I have no desire to that do that now. I don't really think in those terms, I guess. I've had a wonderful life in baseball and got to play a game for a living and now stay connected to baseball through kids' initiatives, minor league initiatives and as an analyst. I'm pretty content and happy.
SI: Last August, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice named you a Special Sports Envoy for the US State Department and sent you to China. What were your impressions of the country?
Ripken: We had a wonderful trip. We had 12 coaches from China that we had trained here for six weeks and then they went back home and invited us to their areas to continue the teaching. The coolest part of the trip was we went to schools and we played something called quick ball, which was essentially a fancier version of whiffle ball with softer balls. The kids had never had a chance to swing a bat and we really created a stir in the schools and left the equipment around.
We did some goodwill and we got to see China in a way that few people get a chance to see. We started in Beijing, then Shanghai, Guangzhou, and there were a couple of small places in between.
SI: Did you find that people in China recognized you?
Ripken: Going down the street, I'd probably say no. We had a camera crew there that captures those sorts of things. When they put my picture in front of someone at a market, they said it was Andre Agassi (laughs).
SI: You recently gave the commencement speech at the University of Delaware. What's the hardest thing about doing a commencement speech?
Ripken: I had said no to those opportunities in the past because I felt that you had to have a message, or you had to live life long enough where you could give some wisdom from your life experiences. Since I didn't go to college, I was always hesitant to go in front of people who were graduating from college. But a friend asked me to do it, and I thought about it and decided to do it. I created a message that I thought was simple, concise and would not have the kids sitting out too long in the hot sun. It was a totally different environment than I have ever spoken in before and one that was pretty exhilarating when you tap into the kids' excitement. It was the first time I had ever given a commencement speech.