At Camden Yards, Cal Ripken, Jr., who had showed up for work every day for the past 13 years, was being honored for breaking Lou Gehrig's record by playing in his 2,131st consecutive game.
Forced from the dugout by his teammates to acknowledge the crowd, Ripken reluctantly jogged around the field, high-fiving fans and friends. The Orioles faithful stood and applauded for 22 minutes.
An argument could be made that the O's shortstop saved baseball on September 6, 1995 when he surpassed Gehrig. His modesty and commitment was just what the sport needed in wake of the devastating labor dispute that had wiped out the previous year's World Series. Never in its history had baseball so desperately needed the spotlight shone on a star that loved his job, appreciated his fans and respected the game.
In the 15 years since this celebration, this magical moment has been relived in books, videos, photos and baseball cards. And though he's been retired for nine years, Ripken remains as popular as ever.
"I think the neatest thing about Cal is what you see is what he is," said Bill Haelig, who often accompanies Ripken to autograph signings and owns one of the finest collections of Ripken memorabilia in the world. "It's not public relations. It's not that he's this way when the doors are open and another way when the doors are closed, or this way when there's a camera on. I don't think there's a more authentic person than Cal."
Max Pollak, sales and operations coordinator at Ironclad Authentics, Ripken's memorabilia company, agrees.
"Cal is a really great guy. He's as good as advertised," he said.
Al Glaser, PSA ticket authenticator, expresses similar sentiments.
"If you could pick a baseball player as a role model, Cal Ripken would probably be right there at the top of the list," he said.
Of course, on top of being well respected off the field, he was also a Hall of Famer on the diamond. A 19-time all-star, Ripken won two MVP awards, eight Silver Slugger awards, two Gold Gloves and a World Series title during his storied 21-year career. He also recorded 3,184 hits and bashed 431 homers.
For his efforts, Ripken was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. A record 75,000 fans attended his Cooperstown ceremony. Cal's popularity is also evident in the hobby, where dozens of collectors compete for his cards and memorabilia. An article about his cards was featured in the January 2007 issue of SMR. This article will focus on the Iron Man's autographs, tickets and game-used bats.
Over the years, Ripken developed a reputation as one of the most accommodating signers of his era.
"He signed at the ballpark, Spring Training and at the team hotel (but that stopped around the time he was getting close to Gehrig's record)," noted Steve Grad, principal authenticator at PSA/DNA. "He was a great signer and I can remember going for his autograph at Comiskey Park in Chicago. You would line up along the first base side past the visitors dugout and he would sign after he was done with batting or infield practice."
Ripken's autograph has changed since early in his playing career. Grad notes that around 1980 Ripken was signing so you could read every letter in his name, but starting in 1982 or 1983, Ripken "cut down on the letters in his signature." Haelig has witnessed the same evolution.
"His signature was different early in his career. Back then, he would write out his full name and you would be able to read every letter," he said. "That shortened version that you see now is more of a product of him signing so many autographs at the ballpark. It was a way to be able to sign more autographs."
Autographs from early in Ripken's career generally command a premium.
"What I'm finding is that there seems to be more of a demand for his earlier signed items from the 1982 to 1986 era," said Haelig.
A PSA/DNA certified autographed baseball sold for $132 on eBay in May 2010, while a PSA/DNA certified 1982 Topps rookie with a PSA 10 autograph fetched $119.04 on eBay in April 2010.
Unfortunately, there are also counterfeit Ripken signatures. To ensure that collectors are purchasing real autographs, Ripken formed Ironclad Authentics, his own memorabilia company, in 2004. The company offers dozens of Ripken signed items. Each one comes with a tamper-proof hologram and certificate of authenticity.
"Cal is big on authenticity," noted Haelig. "He's come to the realization that since he's retired and he's not signing at ballparks six months a year, that if somebody wants to get his autograph today, there's a good possibility they're going to have to pay for it. He wants to make sure that if you have to pay for it, that you are paying for the real deal."
Ripken has become a popular guest on the card show circuit and has developed a reputation for going out of his way to make it a positive experience for each customer. Contrary to common practice, Ripken refuses to charge an additional fee to have a picture taken with him. The Orioles legend also ensures that people get a good picture with him.
"At every show, he will sign for 20 to 25 people at a time. Then people will stand off to the side and he gets up and he'll stand against the backdrop and each person will come up to him and get a picture standing next to him," explained Haelig. "I think he thinks that's an important part of the experience. Not only do you get an autograph, but a good picture with him as well."
Rick Taylor is attempting to collect a ticket from every game of Ripken's streak. As of press time, he had amassed 2,460 tickets. Glaser applauds Taylor's ambition.
"There's no question that Ripken tickets are significantly more rare than Ripken cards," noted Glaser. "They made the cards as a collector's item. Tickets were not made as a collector's item."
The most coveted Ripken tickets are from his historic consecutive game streak. Full tickets from the first game, played on May 30, 1982, are the most valuable. About 10 years ago, Taylor purchased a full ticket from this game for $4,400. The veteran collector says another sold for $7,600 shortly after that. Taylor recently had his ticket authenticated by PSA.
The record-tying (September 5, 1995) and record-breaking (September 6, 1995) game tickets are also coveted. Glaser says tickets for Ripken's 2,131st consecutive game were not torn, so there are no stubs. Instead of being ripped, tickets were embossed with a No. 8 stamp in honor of Ripken.
It should also be noted that three different types of tickets were available for the record-breaking game: season tickets, box office and Ticketmaster.
"The season ticket is much more colorful and much more attractive. The box office is printed at the box office at the stadium," explained Taylor. "In 1995, the season ticket is white with an orange border. It is very, very attractive looking. So when people want to collect a ticket from the record-breaking game, they definitely go for the season ticket version."
Unlike tickets from the first game of the streak, these tickets are widely available because collectors were aware that September 6 was going to be the day that Ripken broke Gehrig's record. Of the 38 of these tickets submitted to PSA, there have been two PSA GEM-MT 10s and two PSA MINT 9s.
Tickets from the last game of the streak (September 19, 1998) are also sought-after. These aren't as common as the 2,131st game tickets because collectors didn't know when the streak would end. Of the 18 evaluated by PSA, there has been one PSA 10 and two PSA MINT 9s.
PSA/DNA bat authenticator, John Taube, says Ripken bats are very highly sought-after. Ripken's preferred model was a P72 Louisville Slugger, with a length of 35 inches. Taube says that the weight of Ripken bats ranged from 32 to 35 ounces and that there are several characteristics he looks for when authenticating a Ripken bat.
"The things that you like to see are his player number (No. 8 on the bottom of the knob) and also a wealth a cleat marks from the sides of his shoes," said Taube. "In between pitches, Ripken would knock the cleats with the bat."
Taube says common Ripken bats can start at approximately $1,700, but can fetch much more. A recent 1983 Ripken bat graded PSA/DNA GU 9 garnered $3,346 in a Heritage Auctions sale in April 2010.
"A rule of thumb with most players of that caliber is that the earlier bats are the more valuable," said Taube.
The longtime bat authenticator can't recall any milestone bats from Ripken's career surfacing in auctions.
"From what I understand, he has a number of bats in his own collection," said Taube. "I can't recall seeing any special event bats of his."
Haelig also believes that Ripken has kept most of his milestone bats.
"Almost anything that has any historical significance he has held onto," he said.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Al Glaser, Heritage Auctions, Rick Taylor, Bill Haelig and Ironclad Authentics provided pictures for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted are those as of press time.