Baltimore Orioles: A hero doesn’t have to stumble


Over the weekend we heard about this story regarding former Baltimore Orioles Gregg Zaun and Cal Ripken Jr. In effect, Zaun (also the nephew of former Oriole Rick Dempsey) claimed that Ripken had mercilessly hazed him during his rookie season. First off, I have no doubt that Ripken was a part of various hazing incidents over the course of his career. He was known as a bit of a prankster, so it would stand to reason. However did he go over some sort of line?

While a prankster, Cal was also known as one of the “good guys.” So I would have serious doubts as to whether or not anything he did went over any sort of line in terms of what may have been done to him, and/or what was considered acceptable at the time. And here’s another thing; I don’t think that Zaun’s point was to suggest that it was. His comments indicate that he feels that type of thing should still occur in big league clubhouses. He goes onto say that he felt that now former Blue Jay Brett Lawrie was never hazed as such, and thus was never taught to “respect the veterans” in the clubhouse.

And I’ll be honest in that I agree with him. While reading that account seems to a much different picture of Cal Ripken Jr. than what most of us know, so long as hazing doesn’t begin to involve illegal activities or those which are dangerous, I don’t see it as inappropriate. The only thing thing I would say regarding Zaun is that he probably should have adhered to the adage that what happens in a locker room should probably stay there. But I don’t personally believe that he in any way was calling out Ripken.

Yet the cited Yahoo article, along with countless comments on various articles and message boards nationwide, seem to be focusing on Ripken. There’s almost a certain giddiness in now having the opportunity to call Cal out as a “bad guy.” First off, there are sides to all of us that others don’t get to see – and with good reason. However we’ve seen this narrative many times in the very recent past; people love to see heros fall from grace as much as seeing them built up.

And my point would be that nobody’s perfect. There are aspects of Cal Ripken’s personality that would probably make us all shudder. And that’s true of your personality, as well as mine. It’s part of the human condition. But too often we as a society are so quick to point the finger, because there seems to be a love affair with tearing hero’s apart. I would submit that this “phenomenon” can be traced back to Richard Nixon and Watergate, but that’s merely an opinion.

While it’s easy for this to be said without an apology in Baltimore, Cal Ripken is a true hero in the world of sports. The same can be said of many other athletes, including Ernie Banks, Brooks Robinson, Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Michael Jordan, and many others. And I would submit that what we’re now failing to understand as a society is that it’s okay to paint a hero as such.

Obviously nobody’s infallible, and that should go without saying. But are fans nationwide that eager for blood that they’d willingly besmudge the name of an admirable person for no reason? Again, the point is that it’s okay to put some people on a pedestal in certain circles or circumstances. Cal Ripken certainly puts his pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us, but he was “the man” to all people from Baltimore for more than a generation. And again, that’s okay.

Zaun has since backed off his comments a bit, and yesterday Ripken (and Zaun) along wih Brady Anderson seemed to indicate that the stories were a bit embellished. But the fact is that there’s a certain coming of age which occurs in all circles of life. At that time, what Ripken and others were doing to rookies such as Gregg Zaun was seen as just that. But nowadays it appears that nobody’s safe from people’s criticism. Cal Ripken Jr. was always painted as the all-American hero, especially in his hometown. And there’s little out there (which isn’t driven by the opinions of others) which indicates that he wasn’t the all-American hero, or that he still is not.