“I had a dad who was the encyclopedia of baseball,” Ripken said. “I wanted to promote the goodness of the sport and try to get more kids to play baseball.”
Those efforts will solidify a long-lasting legacy for Ripken, who turned 60 last month and confronted his own mortality early this year. After a routine checkup showed slightly elevated levels of PSA (prostate-specific antigen), Ripken met with an urologist. A biopsy in February revealed early-stage prostate cancer, and Ripken had surgery in March.
He did not plan to share the news publicly, he said, because he did not want people feeling sorry for him. But he let it slip on a Zoom call with Baltimore reporters last month, and said he was glad he did. A subsequent test assured him he is now cancer-free.
“As baseball players, we have it all done for us when we play. As we retire, we’ve got to make our own appointments and sometimes you get a little lax,” Ripken said. “Men in particular, like me, can stick our heads in the sand and say everything’s going to be all right. Well, it might not be all right. But if you’re proactive and they do find it, you have options.”
It is sobering when a deadly disease afflicts someone known for health and durability. But that, of course, was part of the backdrop to Ripken’s pursuit of the consecutive-games record. Gehrig was forced from the field by A.L.S. in 1939, and died less than two years later, at age 37.
In the summer of 1995, as baseball sheepishly returned from a devastating strike, Ripken’s link to Gehrig colored him in sepia tones. Whatever fans thought of the players and the owners, they could relate to a player who simply showed up every day, ready to work. They shared stories with Ripken, who made a habit of returning to the field after games to sign autographs.
“I was trying to figure out a way to say you’re sorry,” Ripken said, referring to the strike. He never apologized for playing every day, and rejected critics’ notion that resting for a day or two could help him shake slumps.