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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Baseball Hall Of Fame Call Arrives for Gwynn, Ripken- MLB.com

Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn are quintessential examples of how the game should be played both on and off the field. For their outstanding achievements they will both be inducted into Cooperstown this Summer.

First ballot players to be inducted into Hall of Fame on July 29
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com

NEW YORK -- Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. will be forever joined at the hip. They co-existed during the same era, playing their entire careers near their hometowns for a single Major League team, while dominating their respective leagues.

On Tuesday, they were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on their first tries, both having been selected with nearly the highest vote percentages in history -- Ripken finishing third behind Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, while Gwynn nestled in at seventh.

"To me, the numbers and the stats, they're overwhelming," said Ripken, the Baltimore Orioles star who grew up in nearby Aberdeen, Md., and received an all-time high 537 votes on the record 545 ballots cast. "I really didn't get caught up in wanting to be unanimous or wanting to have the most. I'm very content to be voted in."

Gwynn, who grew up in Long Beach, Calif., and played 20 seasons down the freeway for the San Diego Padres, received 532 votes, the second most in history.

Gwynn, who won a record-tying eight National League batting titles, and Ripken, who shattered Lou Gehrig's record by playing in 2,632 consecutive games, will be inducted at Cooperstown on July 29. They will be joined by any candidates elected in the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee election, the results of which will be announced on Feb. 27.

Ripken garnered 98.53 percent of the vote from veteran members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the most for a position player. Ripken finished behind Seaver (98.83 in 1992) and Ryan (98.79 in 1999). Gwynn's percentage of 97.6 ranks directly behind Ty Cobb, George Brett and Hank Aaron, pretty good company.

"These percentages started to concern me a bit," Gwynn said during a conference call. "I feel guilty enough as it is being able to get in, while other guys can't. I was hoping to be in the low 90s and I could go about my business. I didn't want to be close to unanimous. I'm glad it worked out the way it did."

Mark McGwire, also a ballot newcomer, fell well short of election, his name appearing on less than a quarter of the ballots cast, two of which were left completely blank.

Gwynn said McGwire is a Hall of Famer and is being made the scapegoat for what transpired during the years when many suspect that performance-enhancing drugs were used liberally throughout Major League Baseball.

"You all knew about it," said Gwynn, referring to the media. "The players knew it and the owners knew it. But nobody did anything about it."

Ripken was hardly as vociferous

"I don't think it's my place [to give an opinion]," Ripken said during his conference call. "I know that it exists and [the fact] that it's a story doesn't bother me one bit. But when I sit and look at myself, I don't think it's my place to cast judgment. I honestly believe the truth will be known. But right now we're dealing with an awful lot of assumptions and speculation and not a lot of facts."

It was a day of good news and bad news for Rich "Goose" Gossage, the reliever who is creeping ever so close to his day in the Cooperstown sun. The bad news is that this time, Gossage came up 21 votes shy of the 75 percent needed to ascend to the Hall. The good news is that with a much thinner ballot next year, Gossage seems to be on the cusp. In 2008, Tim Raines and David Justice are the cream of the freshman class.

On the ballot for the eighth year, the Goose came in at 71.2 percent, an increase from his 64.6 percent a year ago. In the history of the BBWAA Hall of Fame voting, no candidate has ever received at least 70 percent in an election without eventually gaining a place in Cooperstown. Most recently, Don Sutton (73.2 percent in 1997) and Gaylord Perry (72.1 percent) were elected the very next year.

McGwire received enough votes to carry him over until 2008, but his 23.5 percent (128 votes) was a resounding rejection from an electorate which suspected that the slugger, who finished his 16-year career with 583 homers, was part of Major League Baseball's so-called steroid era.

Of the 17 first-timers on the ballot, only McGwire and Harold Baines received enough votes to carry them over. Five years after he retires, a player has 15 years of eligibility on the ballot, but he must receive at least 5 percent of the vote each year to maintain that status.

In another obvious statement, Jose Canseco (who hit 462 homers) and the late Ken Caminiti (who was named the 1996 National League Most Valuable Player as a member of the Padres), both didn't receive the requisite vote to remain on the ballot. Both players publicly admitted the use of steroids during their playing days.

Canseco, a Bash Brother in Oakland with McGwire, received six votes. Caminiti, who died from a drug overdose in 2004, got two.

With the addition of Gwynn and Ripken to the Hall, 280 members have now been elected, including 198 former Major League players -- 105 of them by BBWAA, whose voters must have at least 10 years of consecutive membership to receive a ballot.

Jim Rice and Andre Dawson, who like Gossage, received more than 60 percent of the vote last year, both lost a little ground. Rice dropped from 64.8 percent last year to 63.5 percent this year, while Dawson slumped from 61 percent in 2006 to 56.7 percent this time around.

From the outset, though, Gwynn and Ripken were dead-bang winners.

Gwynn played for the 1984 and 1998 pennant-winning Padres and considers his home run at Yankee Stadium in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series to be the highlight of his stellar career.

Gwynn tied Honus Wagner for the most NL batting titles in history, and his career-high .394 average during the strike-shortened 1994 season is the highest in the past 65 years -- since Ted Williams became the last of the .400 hitters when he batted .406 to lead the American League in 1941.

In addition, Gwynn was a 15-time NL All-Star who had 3,141 hits, batted .338 and won five Gold Gloves as a right fielder in his 20 Major League seasons, all played with the San Diego Padres.

But he hit only 135 homers and knocked in just 1,138 runs in 2,440 games, both stats he considered to be personal shortcomings. He also never played a complete 162-game season.

"I thought I was going to get penalized," Gwynn said. "I didn't win any championships. I didn't hit a whole lot of home runs. I didn't drive in a whole lot of people. To be one of those lucky ones to get in is a blessing."

In contrast, Ripken, a shortstop and third baseman, didn't miss a game from May 30, 1982, to Sept. 20, 1998, shattering the record consecutive game streak of 2,130 once held by Gehrig, the Yankees first baseman. Ripken had 3,184 hits -- including 431 home runs -- batted .276, was twice an AL Most Valuable Player (1983 and 1991), was a 19-time AL All-Star, and won two Gold Gloves.

His Orioles defeated the Phillies in five games to win the 1983 World Series, with Ripken at short, snaring the series-ending line drive to short hit by Garry Maddox. But Ripken's Baltimore squad never again played in the Fall Classic during the course of his 21-year career.

Certainly, he captivated the hearts of baseball fans everywhere on the night of Sept. 7, 1995, when the Iron Man slipped past the Iron Horse at Camden Yards. That night, after the game against the Angels became official in the fifth inning, Ripken circled the stadium slapping hands with many of the fans as a never-ending cacophony of cheers rained down on him.

"That was completely spontaneous," Ripken said about the lap. "It was Bobby [Bonilla] and Rafael Palmeiro who pushed me out of the dugout and said, 'Hey, if you don't do a lap around this thing, we're never going to get this game re-started.' As I started to do it, the celebration of 50,000 became very one-on-one and personal. Catching the last out of the World Series was the best feeling because there was a sense of fulfillment, completion and joy.

"But the best human experience of my life was that lap. At the end of it, I couldn't have cared less if that game got started again. This [Hall of Fame honor] is a wonderful moment and a wonderful feeling."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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