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BILL PLASCHKE

Day In, Day Out

Ripken Is the Standard-Bearer for Baseball's Working-Class Heroes

July 27, 2001|BILL PLASCHKE

When Cal Ripken Jr. comes to Edison Field tonight for the first of his final three games in Southern California, he will not seek out John Moynihan.

"He wouldn't know me from a load of coal," Moynihan said.

When Ripken puts on his Baltimore Oriole uniform, Moynihan will be putting on a rumpled blue blazer.

When Ripken runs out to third base, Moynihan will be settling into a hard chair in the press box.

While Ripken is catching a grounder or slapping a line drive, Moynihan will be retrieving a ball or calling an electrician.

The two men couldn't be more different.

Yet, in a way that defines the wonder of both Ripken and the game he has graced, they are precisely the same.

The retiring Ripken will be embraced one last time here not because he was a star, but because he showed up for work.

His greatness will be measured not in extraordinary hits, but in everyday beauty.

Taking the field every game for 16 consecutive seasons. Wearing the same team's shirt for 20 consecutive years.

He symbolizes not the guys who hit home runs, but the guys who clean up the outfield bleachers. Not the guys who kick up dirt, but the guys who rake it.

One of the greatest baseball players ever is, well, just another John Moynihan.

That would be the Angel press box usher who, earlier this season, took his first sick day in 40 years.

Something about being rushed from the stadium to a hospital with a rapid heart beat.

"Aw, they said it was just stress," he said. "Missed only two games."

With Moynihan and countless other longtime baseball employees celebrated through Ripken, it's never a big deal.

A guy washes jocks in a clubhouse for 20 years without ever feeling dirty.

A woman takes tickets for 30 years and never complains about missing the game.

A kid gets into the lineup on a May day in 1982, and doesn't come out until a September night in 1998.

More than any other sport, baseball mesmerizes common people into performing uncommon acts for unfair salaries and unimaginable lengths of time.

All for reasons unexplainable other than to say, they just want to be part of it.

"There's no words I can say to you, what it is about this game," Moynihan said.

After playing 2,632 consecutive games, Ripken said about the same thing.

When his streak ended, the visiting New York Yankees gave him a standing ovation from their dugout.

When Moynihan's streak ended during a May game against the Chicago White Sox, he looked up from his hospital bed and saw three Angel employees standing at his side. Now that was a standing ovation.

He's a ruddy-faced old baseball guy, 68 years having not yet stolen the glint from his eyes. But upon recounting that last memory, John Moynihan wept.

"There's certain things you forget about this game, about its wonderful people," he said.

This weekend, as in his other final appearances around the country, Ripken will make us remember.

The most famous act of his career? Typically, it occurred when the ball was dead. Few will forget that September night in 1995 when he ran around Camden Yards slapping the hands of fans who were witnessing his record-breaking 2,131st consecutive game.

His signature move? It occurs before the first pitch, when he signs countless autographs outside the dugout.

Although his numbers alone would qualify Ripken for the Hall of Fame, his most enduring trait has been his ability to include everyone else in his dream.

John Moynihan's most famous moment? It might have occurred just the other night.

Using his binoculars from the press box, he spotted a foul ball being wrestled from a little boy. He pulled out a new baseball and ordered it sent down to the boy.

"That's just a little thing," Moynihan said.

For Ripken-type folks, everything is just a little thing.

Moynihan once rescued a radio engineer with the Heimlich maneuver. He doesn't remember the engineer or the team.

"The guy said that the two pops I gave him hurt worse than the choking," he said.

Moynihan once trucked a load of drunk writers back to their hotels, throwing them in the back of a pickup and saving them from themselves.

"Everyone was singing, 'For He's A Jolly Good Fellow,' " Moynihan remembered. "I was worried we would all get arrested."

Then there was the time he rushed from Anaheim to Glendale just before a game against the Washington Senators to attend his wife Shirley's quicker-than-expected birth of their fourth child, daughter Tracy Dawn.

He was given a police escort from the stadium to the freeway, then sped north in time to beat the birth by 30 minutes.

"Then I went back to the game," Moynihan said, shrugging. "My father-in-law told me everything was fine, there was no reason to stay."

Moynihan, who worked for UPS during the day, began his baseball career as a Dodger usher at the Coliseum. He worked his way up from the field to the press box, where he was noticed by Gene Autry, who then owned the radio station that broadcast Dodger games.

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