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December 07, 2009
Every SI Story ... Every SI Photo ... Ever SI.COM/VAULT
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December 07, 2009

The Vault

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Every SI Story ... Every SI Photo ... Ever SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPT | Dec. 18, 1995

Everyday Hero

No one loved to go to work more than Cal Ripken Jr.

Before Derek Jeter, only one shortstop had been named SI's Sportsman of the Year. Richard Hoffer paid tribute to an indefatigable Oriole.

There's a man, close-cropped gray hair, looks older than 35, standing in the partial glow of stadium lights, standing along the railing of an empty field, signing autographs hours after a game. He doesn't really have any place to go, his family is asleep, so it's no big deal. He signs away, not to rekindle a country's love affair with its national pastime (that kind of calculation is beyond him) but because somebody wants something and it's easy to give. A teammate offers him a big leaguer's diagnosis: "You're sick."

The man shrugs. He has played in more games consecutively than anyone, dead or alive. Punched in, punched out. It's not so much a record, not a reward for greatness, as it is a by-product of sustained adolescence and, of course, unusual good health. A milestone is all it is. He knows it, too. The man shrugs, signing beneath the stadium lights. "If you could play baseball every day," he says, "wouldn't you?"

Cal Ripken Jr.'s "assault" on Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played was the least dramatic record run of all time. Assuming the fan could read a schedule, he knew exactly when (Sept. 6) and where (Camden Yards) the record-breaking would happen. All Ripken had to do was be there. Yet it turned out to be one of the great feel-good events in sports—ever—and if there wasn't a lump in your throat when Ripken circled the field in a reluctant kind of victory lap, you weren't paying attention.

Ripken wound up playing in 2,632 straight games, all for Baltimore, before taking himself out of the lineup on Sept. 20, 1998. He retired after the 2001 season and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.

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