Making of a legend

Rupert Cornwell reports on a perfect night in the troubled game of baseball

So perfectly scripted was the night, the Baltimore Orioles might just have been taken over by Walt Disney. President Clinton no less was in the radio play-by-play booth, baseball's newest immortal actually hit a home run - and then, as the giant number on the warehouse wall moved from 2,130 to 2,131, a cheer soared to the heavens, and the flashes of a myriad spectators' camera bulbs turned Campden Yards into a stage set from Fantasia.

But this was no fantasy. Finally, after 13 years, three months and eight days, Cal Ripken had done it. When the visiting California Angels completed their fifth innings, the feat became official. The local boy, born and raised a 40- minute drive from the stadium, on Wednesday night surpassed Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games.

For more than 20 minutes they were on their feet applauding (22 minutes and 15 seconds to be exact; baseball insists on exact statistics). Half a dozen times Ripken appeared from the Orioles dugout, but still they would not sit down. Finally, propelled on to the field by two of his colleagues, the man of the decade performed a slow-motion lap of honour. God was in his heaven and, for an instant, Cal Ripken was his son, sent to earth to save America's beleaguered national pastime from itself.

But more even than statistics, baseball treasures history, sentiment and continuity. Which is why the best moment came afterwards, long after midnight, as the post-game celebrations reached their climax. First they introduced Ripken's team-mates from 30 May, 1982, the day the streak began. Then his family, then sundry dignitaries. But impatience was creeping into the air, "We want Cal, We want Cal," they chanted, demanding the promised speech.

And then, suddenly there was silence. An old man, almost 81 now, was walking out to the centre of the field. His back was stooped, his step slow, and the wavy swept back hair had turned almost white. But here, instantly recognisable, was the human link this evening of baseball pageantry and history had lacked: Joe DiMaggio, Jolting Joe, the legendary "Yankee Clipper" who was Gehrig's team-mate for the last three years, between 1936 and 1939.

"Cal Ripken is a one in a million ball player," DiMaggio said as he took the microphone by second base. "Wherever Lou is today, I'm sure he is tipping his cap to you, Cal." Thus a generational baton passed. Gehrig's record had been considered unbreakable; now another baseball immortal, who had watched as it was established 56 years ago, was on hand to sanctify the man who surpassed it. And, for the umpteenth time on Wednesday night, the cheers resumed.

Finally it was Ripken's turn, "overwhelmed as I stand here, as my name is linked with the great and courageous Lou Gehrig". And if the great man were looking down on the frenzy in Baltimore: "I know he isn't concerned about someone playing one more consecutive game than he did. Instead he's viewing tonight as just another example of what's good and right about the great American game".

For Ripken it was simply another day at the office, but, as the home run proved, where the job came first. "Even God took a day off," proclaimed a poster. But not Cal Ripken. After all, that was only the Creation. This is baseball.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...