For the current and former Orioles who played with Cal Ripken Jr., there was little suspense surrounding his election to the Hall of Fame.
But they relished the chance to celebrate Ripken's greatness after the results were announced yesterday.
"It's a sport where analysts and writers can make arguments that their particular generation played the game better, because baseball is not a game of times and distances," said Brady Anderson, who played with Ripken for 14 years and is one of his closest friends. "Cal is one of the few players who transcends these arguments. Part of the reason is because he was categorically a great player, but there is so much more to Cal that makes it easy for all generations to embrace him. His baseball intelligence, his life intelligence, his ultimate respect for the game and the predecessors of his era. His playing streak, which demonstrates his reliability and old-school toughness."
Fellow Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, who played for Ripken's father and first met the future shortstop at age 4, said Ripken was the ultimate product of the vaunted "Oriole Way."
"For any of us in the Oriole family who knew his dad, Junior was the ideal baseball player, on or off the field," Palmer said. "This is a great day, because he's one of us."
Cal Ripken Sr. was a renowned tough guy, the sort who, after taking a line drive off his face, would towel off the blood and get back to tossing batting practice.
"They're a lot alike," Palmer said. "Obviously, they're different in physical stature, but they're both very tough."
Former teammates remain in awe of Ripken's analytical skills.
"Obviously, his work ethic is legendary," said Mike Bordick, who replaced Ripken at shortstop in 1997. "The way he approached the game, on and off the field, doing everything the right way. It was basically the perfect way. And I think anybody who came in contact with Cal tried to emulate that to some degree, to try to make themselves better. I know he hung his hat on his work ethic and the way he approached the game. He was always trying to make himself better, more knowledgeable, always trying to learn about situations and pitchers and things. And I think those are the things that set him apart."
The first season in Baltimore for current Orioles designated hitter Jay Gibbons coincided with Ripken's last.
"I was 100 percent intimidated. It was my first spring training in the big leagues and you have Cal Ripken sitting in the corner. It's hard not to be intimidated when you've looked up to the guy since high school," Gibbons said. "But once he talked to you, he made you feel very at ease. He liked to talk to you about baseball and I would always listen. He was a good guy to listen to."
Gibbons said the 2001 season was one of his career highlights.
"It came out of the blue for the whole team when he announced he was going to retire," Gibbons said. "Nobody had talked about it or anything. It was definitely a special season. I always looked at Cal as [if] he was an event. That guy had people pulling at him left and right, wanting a piece of him. ... I never saw him turn down autographs or interviews."
Gibbons particularly remembered the last game of the 2001 season.
"He was a tireless worker, constantly in the cage working on his swing. I remember in his last game, he was with [hitting coach Terry Crowley] doing his thing for a long time. Till the end, he worked his tail off."
Though Ripken was a terrific natural athlete, his greatness was built only partially on physical skill, his peers said.
"He was a student of the game, he understood why things were going on, he analyzed, almost to a fault, everything that was going on," said fellow infielder Jeff Reboulet. "He had every angle covered. He thought it through at great length to make sure that everything going on was the right thing. I think some guys, they get an idea in their head and they just go with it, and that can get them into trouble. He wasn't that way. He thought about it."
Given such qualities and his remarkable statistics, some expected Ripken to receive the highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes in history. But at 98.5 percent, he fell just short of Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan. Palmer said he wasn't shocked that eight writers found reasons not to vote for Ripken.
"Maybe they felt The Streak wasn't as significant as it actually was," he said. "As a baseball player, you just marvel at that feat, but maybe a writer has a different perspective."
Some older players said Ripken shouldn't have been the first unanimous selection.
"If [Willie] Mays and [Hank] Aaron weren't unanimous, nobody should be," said former Orioles center fielder Paul Blair. "Willie Mays was the greatest ballplayer who ever lived. It's ridiculous. That's not to say that Cal doesn't deserve to go in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. There's no question. But it shouldn't be unanimous."
firstname.lastname@example.orgSun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.