The perfect attendance award isn’t necessarily the most-applauded award in school. That’s probably “valedictorian,” or maybe “best couple”? But things get a little different when you get older. And play professional baseball. For 13.5 years without taking a day off. Like Cal Ripken Jr did.
And on Sept 6 1995, Cal Ripken Jr played in his 2131st game, thus breaking Lou Gehrig’s previously-believed-unbreakable record for most consecutive games ever. And we all applauded like crazy. The fans at Camden Yards gave him a 22-minute standing ovation.
Which is a long time. I can’t really think of a reason I’d voluntarily stand up for 22 minutes straight. But that’s what the fans did for Ripken because his record-breaking feat was more than a perfect attendance award.
Ripken and his streak symbolize respect for himself, the game, and the fans. It was built from an ethic that seemed to be missing from the modern game.
Ripken played baseball by a self defined “code of behavior,” which boiled down to: try hard and be a nice guy. He’s a family man, a regular milk drinker who once turned down a lucrative underwear endorsement out of a sense of decency and modesty. He even shied away from the fame of the streak. He never set out to break Gehrig’s record. He just set out to play baseball with integrity.
Despite his intentions, the streak and the chase to Gehrig’s record defined him and his career.
To fully realize why Ripken deserved a 22-minute standing ovation, we have to rewind.