The Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award for Sportsmanship is the pinnacle honor bestowed at the Musial Awards. It recognizes an iconic sports figure who exemplifies sportsmanship and embodies the class, dignity, generosity, excellence, civility, and integrity for which Stan the Man was known.
This year’s winner, Cal Ripken Jr., shares much in common with Stan, starting with their nicknames. Stan is The Man, but Cal is the Iron Man, a tribute to the 2,632 consecutive games he played. Like Stan, Cal spent his entire career with one team, in his case, 21 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles. But the comparisons are more striking off the field, where Ripken has devoted much of his time and talent to teaching sports at the youth level.
Most of us have snickered at the kid with perfect attendance. As if anyone actually believed in the notion that showing up every single day, no matter how tired or sore or sick, was a virtue. Or that a “mental health day” could do more harm than good.
We wouldn’t snicker at Cal Ripken, Jr., though. The fact that he stands 6-4 and 225 has a little to do with that. The real reason is his consistent display of excellence that spanned those 2,632 consecutive games and beyond. Among his accomplishments:
Busting the myth that only little guys could play shortstop in the big leagues, he redefined the position and opened the door for the likes of Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra and Troy Tulowitzki.
But the excellence and class he exuded on the field pales in comparison to the legacy he has built off the field. Even in his playing days, Cal devoted himself to charitable causes. He was recognized in 1992 with the Roberto Clemente Award, as baseball’s Man of the Year. When he broke Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130 consecutive games played in 1995, he honored Gehrig by setting up the Cal Ripken Jr./Lou Gehrig ALS Research Fund at Johns Hopkins University, to help find a cure for the disease that claimed Gehrig.
Since retirement, Cal and his brother, Bill, founded the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which works with at-risk youth to build character and teach critical life lessons through sports-themed programs. Working with former Baltimore Sun columnist Kevin Cowherd, Ripken has also written six books, parables in a baseball setting that deal with issues faced daily by young people.
The foundation’s core values mirror those so respected in Stan: perseverance, integrity, community, passion, character, teamwork, fun, family and commitment. And its work is crystallized in The Ripken Way, the lessons of baseball (and life) as first taught by Cal Sr., and explained in a series of books that Cal and Bill co-authored. Their principles are well-defined and should sound familiar.
“The four principles are the way my father taught me the game and the way that I taught the game to my children,” says Cal, father of a son and a daughter. “Passing the principles along is a great way to honor my father. Baseball gave me and our family so much, that finding ways like this to work with the game to give back just made sense.”