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Baseball heroes fused work with fun

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Two boys of October made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year with a gigantic mandate. Why? Hard work.

Nobody’s done more to promote the ideal of duty in pro sports than the Baltimore Orioles’ Cal Ripken Jr. and the San Diego Padres’ Tony Gwynn. And nobody’s done more to promote the ideal of fun.

A few illustrations:
  • They never got bored, with Gwynn earning eight batting titles, or tired of being “gamers,” with Ripken playing in more consecutive games than anyone.

  • Fear of failure motivated Gwynn. One humiliating day, he grounded out against a second baseman brought in to pitch. “I carry that at-bat around every day,” he said.

  • Ripken routinely signed hundreds of autographs per night. A coach said he’d never seen a player sign as often: “One night it was 102 degrees, we lost, played terrible, and he signed for every last fan.”

  • Despite his mature work ethic, Ripken is basically a kid, which goes a long way toward explaining his joy in baseball. Saying children are “the secret to life,” he announced that “I was the pool toy” at a birthday party. “Kids love him,” added a trainer who was there. “But no matter how much fun they had, he had more.”

  • Gwynn studied the writings of Red Sox slugger Ted Williams. Rereading Williams before his .394 season got Gwynn thinking about going after the inside pitch. “Worked,” he said later. “Had a chance to drive in 90 runs.”

  • Through pain, sickness and fatigue, Ripken played for another 500 games straight after breaking Lou Gehrig’s 59-year-old record for consecutive games.

  • Toward the end of his run, Ripken left the ballpark at 1:15 am and stopped to say good night to two women with their own streak going. One hadn’t missed a home game in 18 years, the other in 14. He gave them each a can of iced tea.

  • Gwynn and Ripken are humble. “I’m not bigger than big,” Gwynn said.

  • Both are perfectionists. In Gwynn’s early days, he carried 11 videotapes on the road so he could study his at-bats against the 11 other National League teams. Ripken’s need to be prepared bordered on the obsessive. Long before batting practice, he’d run, throw and use the batting cage to hit.
Or, as Ripken once said, “If you could play every day, wouldn’t you?”

—Adapted from “Men At Work,” Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Issue, Sports Illustrated.

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