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The Novak Zone -- Interview With Cal Ripken

Aired August 30, 2003 - 09:29   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it's no secret that Robert Novak is a sports fan. And recently, he had the chance to sit down with one of baseball's all-time greats to find out what he's been up to. Cal Ripken takes his swings in The Novak Zone.

ROBERT NOVAK, HOST: Welcome to The Novak Zone.

We're in Aberdeen, Maryland, at Ripken Stadium, home of the Aberdeen Ironbirds minor league baseball team. And we're talking to the owner, the Iron Man of baseball, Cal Ripken, Jr.

Cal, you have just had the Ripken, Cal Ripken World Series, 10 teams from around the world. What is the Cal Ripken World Series?

CAL RIPKEN, JR., BASEBALL'S IRON MAN: Well, I guess the easiest way to explain it is, what Williamsport is to Little League, that's the one that gets the most attention, that's the Little League World Series, we are to Babe Ruth baseball. Cal Ripken Baseball is 5- to 12-year olds, and our world series permanent home will be Aberdeen, Maryland. And we have a world series just like Williamsport.

And basically, it's the all-stars, it's the elite 12s that are competing here. We have international teams, we have domestic teams. And so far, it's just been, it's been a wonderful experience.

NOVAK: Cal, when have you kids, particularly in the Little League, ESPN, being interviewed at such a young age, do you have any concerns that this kind of sets them up for selfishness and kind of the troubles we're having with athletes today?

RIPKEN: Well, there is an inherent conflict that -- what we're trying to accomplish. My philosophy is to deflate some of the pressure and some of the individualism and the emphasis on winning, but at the same time, you're celebrating a world series that actually brings -- crowns a world champion.

I think I'd like to be able to use this as a platform to kind of get my philosophy out there, and to understand that more fully, my address to the kids here is, you know, Let's not get caught up in the end result here. We're all going to compete fairly, we're all going to make sure that we compete in the right way. There's going to be a certain code of behavior that we like to look after and make sure that you guys do it. I said, But this is a life experience. Let's not look at it as an all-or-nothing sort of an experience. One person's going to win and everybody else is going to not win. So let's not feel like we're losers. Let's utilize the cultural opportunities, get to know the other players on the other team, look around you, enjoy your world series.

NOVAK: Cal, you brought the Utica Blue Sox, bought them here to your stamping grounds. What's it like to be a owner of a professional baseball team?

RIPKEN: Well, it's a great and wonderful experience. I've seen the baseball environment from the field looking out all these years. Even though my dad was a manager in the minor leagues, I still traveled around with him and saw it from the field out. Now, as an owner, you're kind of looking from the whole baseball activity from outside in, from a fan's perspective.

And I think it's, you know, especially in the minor league environment, it's a good family entertainment value. Parents are very comfortable bringing themselves -- bringing their kids out here to enjoy the game.

NOVAK: And we're not so far from Camden Yards in Baltimore, where you go see the big boys. Why would somebody who lives in Aberdeen go here when they can see major league baseball?

RIPKEN: Well, it's a different product, first of all. It's a whole lot more affordable. Again, one of the criticisms of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- baseball at the highest levels is, you take a family down there, you spend a lot of money.

It's a smaller environment, so parents and kids feel like it's not so intimidating. And the players themselves are a little bit more accessible. It's a less structure on the field and relationship with the fans.

NOVAK: Speaking of the Orioles, they used to talk about the Oriole way, which was a classy way of playing baseball, bringing people up from the minors in the system, as you came up. What happened to the Oriole way?

RIPKEN: Well, the Oriole way was -- is basically a system that was developed over the years through the people that were involved at that particular time. It wasn't anything fancy. They basically figured out what they liked and what they disliked. They discarded what they disliked and kept and built on the one -- things they liked.

It was about people. My dad was part of the Oriole way. I think he was there 14 years in the minor leagues, I think seven of those years, they had the same people in place. So it was about continuity. It was about stability.

And as things evolve and as things grow, change occurred, and I think everyone's still trying to get back to a way, an Oriole way, which really represented a good baseball model that developed their players, moved them through the system, made good choices at the top level.

And the end result was, you won at the top level, and your winning percentage at the bottom really wasn't so critical. It was how many players you had in the big leagues that you developed.

NOVAK: Cal, you broke a record that I grew up thinking would never be broken, the Lou Gherig record for consecutive games played. There was a couple other so-called unbreakable records, Joe DiMaggio's 56-game winning streak. And then Ted Williams was the last player to hit .400. Do you think those marks will ever be breached?

RIPKEN: I think, in my particular case, if I could break a record for consecutive games, I think somebody else could, because I don't see myself as superhuman. I think there's going to be a unique set of circumstances that has to come to play and a passion and a long-term stubbornness, I think, in some ways.

The other two records seem to be almost unbreakable. Hitting .400, in this day and age, and hit -- having a 56-game hitting streak, they're performance motivated. And when you're under the scrutiny and the pressure of the daily routines that you have to deal with the media, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), you can't sneak up on a 20-game hitting streak. As soon as you get 16, you're starting to get national attention.

Four hundred, if you're hitting .400 in August, which I've seen a couple players hit .400 in August, you know, it -- everyone's human, and that pressure that's put on them for the last month or month and a half of the season is just almost too much to get through.

NOVAK: Do you think you'll ever be back on the major leagues team as an executive or in some capacity, an owner?

RIPKEN: Well, I have goals and ambitions, and I see myself as a lifelong baseball student. I have certain philosophies that I'd like to test at some point at the big league level. The job of manager appeals to me, a coach appeals to me, at a different time frame.

And if there was an opportunity, what I'd really be involved in is trying to tap into some of the principles of the Oriole way that I was so accustomed and familiar with, and try to shape an organization from the top to the bottom.

NOVAK: And now the big question for Cal Ripken, Jr.

One of the great hitters of all time, Pete Rose, has been barred from the Hall of Fame, barred from participation in baseball. Do you think he should be restored?

RIPKEN: Well, to me, there's two separate issues working. I think that maybe they're tied together. For the issue of about whether he should work in baseball, I think there are a few people that really know the details of his gambling and to the extent of his gambling. I'm not privy to that sort of information, so I wouldn't even go to that side. But if you're looking as -- at the Hall of Fame as a celebration of the history of baseball, there is no doubt, no question in my mind that he should be in the Hall of Fame. He's the all-time hit leader. He's Charlie Hustle. I mean, he made a significant contribution to baseball. You know, he should be in the Hall of Fame no, doubt about it.

NOVAK: Cal Ripken, Jr., thank you very much.

And thank you for being in The Novak Zone.



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