Cal Ripken, third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, is one of the most accomplished players in the major leagues.
He catapulted himself to the attention of even devoted nonfans five seasons ago when he surpassed Lou Gehrig's record of playing in 2,130 consecutive games. Before voluntarily taking himself out of the lineup in the final game of the 1998 season, he worked in 2,632 straight contests, unfathomable in a sport - yea, a society - in which taking time off inexplicably is considered a birthright.
Then, last September, Ripken smacked his 400th career homer, becoming only the 29th big leaguer to hit that many. The other day, he stroked his 3,000th base hit. He's the 24th player to hit that many. In short order, he'll be moving past the likes of Al Kaline, Wade Boggs, Lou Brock, and Rod Carew.
With 400 homers and 3,000 hits, he is just the seventh big leaguer to ever do this. He joins the most super of baseball's stars in this accomplishment, including Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays.
Ripken is all about achievement.
Or maybe he's not.
What most of us slogging along in the mud and the weeds fail to understand is the nature of Ripken's success. It is based, more than anything else, on his ability to cope with failure. Indeed, Ripken succeeds because he doesn't rail about his failures but is able to accept them.
Failure depresses most. With Ripken, it's as if each failure only puts him closer to his next success.
His career batting average is slightly under .280. This means, of course, that more than 7 out of every 10 times he tries to hit, he fails. Goodness, if most of us failed 7 out of every 10 times at work trying to perform one of our most important tasks, how long would we last? Often Ripken fails in the most obvious way possible, by striking out, more than 1,200 times.
As a base stealer, Ripken ranks among the worst. Now in his 20th year, all of them with the Orioles, he has stolen a pathetic 36 bases. That's not even two a year, for crying out loud. It gets worse: He has been thrown out trying to steal 37 times. Base running is an important part of baseball. Ripken stinks at it.
One of the most damaging things a player can do to the detriment of his team is hit into a double play. Ripken holds the American League record, having accounted for two outs with one swing of the bat a whopping 324 times.
In the field, Ripken has made about 280 errors. Don't point out he has had more than 12,000 chances. Come on, he's a big leaguer. Big leaguers make a zillion dollars to catch balls cleanly and throw them accurately. It's in their job description.
Twice since 1981, Ripken has been the American League MVP. That means 17 times he has failed to be so named, and he isn't going to get it this year, either. Twice his fielding was honored with a Gold Glove Award, which means 17 other times he wasn't.
Only once was he named American League Rookie of the Year.
At the annual Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado last week, a football player told his audience, "There's always success in failure." That's true, perhaps. Losers can always say they tried, they competed, blah, blah, blah.
But what Ripken demonstrates is that there is failure in success, and plenty of it. And that is what distinguishes the stars from the slugs. People of achievement are motivated by failure rather than being defeated by it. To rise up from the ashes and win again is incredibly demanding. Mostly it demands a stout heart.
"It was always important for me to go out and play the game," Ripken says, "as best I could and to have some success." It's easy to be motivated by success and "attaboys," not so easy to be motivated by failure and criticism.
Anyone who has tried to play baseball knows what a humbling, difficult game it is. It is exacting and it is frustrating. But Ripken, who has a rock-solid reverence for the game, understands all this and prospers.
A case can even be made that Ripken can't get out of his own way, having been hit by a pitch 61 times in his career.
Maybe Ripken will explain all of this when he is voted into the Hall of Fame, unanimously.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society