On September 6, Cal Ripken, Jr. was honored by the Baltimore Orioles on the anniversary of this historic breaking of Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played by the unveiling of a bronze statue of the celebrated shortstop. You can read Cal’s comments at the ceremony on the Baltimore Sun website.
In light of this celebration, we thought you might like to see the article, “Workplace Lessons from Cal Ripken, Jr.” that I wrote for the HR Daily Advisor in 2007, when Cal was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Workplace Lessons from Cal Ripken, Jr.
As a human resources editor—and baseball fan—I wanted to write about the valuable lessons that HR professionals can glean from Cal Ripken, Jr.’s career—and Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech— and share with employees.
I’m no Doris Kearns Goodwin, but as the result of having a father, husband, and son who all love the game, I became a follower, too. Cal’s speech was both inspiring and relevant to the workplace with its praise of commitment, preparation, teamwork, personal development, and pride. Of course, we all remember when Cal broke Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130 consecutive games played (usually known as “The Streak” ) by playing 3 more years and reaching 2,632 consecutive games--virtually 15 straight years of starting every game.
Cal’s reference to this achievement in his induction speech is posted on bulletin boards around the country as homage to what the American work ethic was and still should be. For how often does a modern-day personality praise commitment to a job? Cal said:
“Some fans have looked at ‘The Streak’ as a special accomplishment, but I always looked at it as just showing up for work every day. I see thousands of people who do the same ... You all may not have received the accolades I have, but I’d like to take the time out to salute you for showing up, working hard, and making the world a better place.”
Cal’s idea of workplace commitment extends beyond perfect attendance. It also means consistently performing your job well. In the Hall of Fame induction ceremony program, Cal said that he felt he and Gehrig had a connection, the same “approach … a sense of responsibility, a sort of old-fashioned value that it was your job to come out and play every day … and be proud of what you have accomplished.”
Never missed a practice, either
In the excellent baseball book Is This a Great Game, or What?, ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian says that it was the daily need to show up, do his best, and be competitive, rather than superior natural talent, that made Cal a Hall of Famer. He never missed games, but he never missed batting practice or infield drills, either. He kept up training during the off season, playing different sports to acquire new skills. Everything was a learning experience for Cal (who even learned to tape up his own ankles by watching the trainers).
Cal was always thinking; devising strategies. His motto was his father’s: “If you take care of all the little things, you’ll never have a big thing to worry about.” And he did something that you try to get your employees to do—he planned for his retirement. While most mega-salary stars have business managers to guide them through their post-baseball lives, many relinquish control to these advisors and just don’t get involved.
Cal started thinking about this transition, including the details of creating a “values-based” corporation and foundation, long before his last season. In his speech, he says he “finished playing, rather than retired, because I felt that I was not at an ending, but at another beginning in my life.” Bet you wish your employees would become more involved in their own retirement planning.
How can HR professionals use Cal’s example in their own workplaces to inspire and motivate employees? Perfect attendance isn’t rewarded much anymore; we don’t want sick employees coming to work and spreading illness. But we can recognize employees who are always prepared, pay attention to detail, strive to improve themselves, and take pride in their own work—no matter what their jobs.
And you, as well as your managers, supervisors, and executives, can aspire to lead by example, the way Cal Ripken does.
Perhaps when you need opening remarks for an orientation or training session, you can bring up the Iron Man and the workplace lessons he brought us from the baseball diamond.