Baseball legend shares experiences

Published 1:03 am Thursday, April 10, 2003

By By JAN GRIFFEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- The typically older, staid crowd at meetings of The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan sported a younger, eager attitude Wednesday evening.
Some sat with legs folded underneath them, playing in their chairs. Many ate their desserts first.
Instead of visiting the bar for a pre-meal cocktail, they impatiently whiled away the seemingly endless moments waiting for the evening's speaker with decks of cards given them by their parents and by sharing stories with friends about the memorabilia they brought with them -- baseballs, baseball caps, Baltimore Orioles jerseys.
Sharpie permanent markers were in abundance.
Baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. even brought one with him.
Ripken, who retired following the 2001 season after a storied 21 years playing America's favorite pastime, was guest of The Economic Club Wednesday night at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor.
Ripken is owner of "The Streak," having played more consecutive games -- 2,632 -- than any other in the sport, never missing a game from the beginning of his career on May 30, 1982, until Sept. 19, 1998.
At the time, it was thought by many Lou Gehrig's record of consecutive games played would never be broken.
When he ended his streak, Ripken Jr. had added an additional 501 games to that number.
Since retirement, Ripken has entered the business arena and most recently joined the lecture circuit, a task which he seems yet to have fully embraced.
Instead, he shared his experiences, opinions and philosophies, hoping some of the benefits of his experience would relate to the lives of those in business and those beginning in the game.
Ripken, 42, left his baseball uniform and traded it for a business suit.
Ripken formed a company -- Ripken Management and Design -- and built an $18 million baseball stadium in his hometown of Aberdeen, Md. He went looking for a minor league team and bought the one located in Utica, N.Y., and moved them to Aberdeen, renaming them the Aberdeen Ironbirds.
Near his stadium in Aberdeen, he is constructing a mini-Camden Yards, which he hopes will become to Cal Ripken Jr. league baseball -- 750,000 strong and growing nationwide -- what Williamsport, Penn., is to the Little League World Series.
He said his complex in Aberdeen is "all about celebrating baseball at the youth level." In addition to hosting championship games, Ripken's company will put on camps for youngsters to teach the fundamentals of baseball.
Ripken said he's identified six principles he's learned from playing baseball that he thinks translate into lessons useful in business and in life.
Principle No. 1 -- Leadership matters
He said the 2002 Major League Baseball All-Star game, which ended in a tie, was a prime example of that.
Other sports may have exhibition games and other kinds of contests, but baseball games are real, he said, and someone forgot to emphasize that to the leadership on those teams.
The most powerful form of leadership, he said, is by example. He said one of his favorite quotes is one from James Baldwin -- "Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they never fail to imitate them."
Principle No. 2 -- The importance of a good work ethic
Essential to building a good work ethic, he said, is to "survey your work." The feeling of a job done well, he said, is addictive.
Principle No. 3 -- Success is a process
He told a story about baseball teammate Albert Bell, who was fanatical about preparation.
Bell also researched opposing pitchers and documented trends after every at bat.
Principle No. 4 -- Importance of teamwork
Individual responsibility -- being selfish and to be the best you can be as an individual -- is the best thing you can do for a team, Ripken said. "The hard part comes when you have to merge that into your team, and that's a hard dynamic."
The secret of teamwork, he said, isn't going through team-building exercises or the like.
Principle No. 5 -- The value of perseverance
Perseverance is having to "dig down inside and react to things that are unfavorable. When your back is against the wall, you don't cover your eyes," he said.
Ripken credited his father with having taught him the value of perseverance. He told a story of his father teaching him and his brother to use a tractor crank to start a tractor engine.
Ripken Sr. had rigged an old tractor with a snow plow and would use it to plow the snow-covered roads in their neighborhood. One snowy day, the tractor's battery wouldn't work. Ripken Sr. grabbed a heavy metal tractor crank and proceeded to show his sons how to use it.
He told them to push down on the crank and allow its torque to bring it back up. However, during the demonstration, the engine wouldn't crank.
Sure enough, while doing so, the crank flew off the tractor and hit Ripken Sr. in the head, creating a gash that gushed blood.
Ripken Jr., having recently earned his driver's license, put his father in the car to drive him to the hospital. On the way there, Ripken Sr. told his son to pull into the family's driveway, and his father got out and went inside.
However, his father never returned to the car.
Instead, he went inside, bandaged his bleeding head and got back into the car.
However, Ripken Sr. told his son to drive him back to the tractor, where he preceded to grab the tractor crank, crank the engine and plow the neighborhood's snowy roads.
Principle No. 6 -- The value of winning and losing