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The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History presented its “Great Americans” medal to former Major League Baseball player and philanthropist, Cal Ripken Jr., on April 17. The museum recently acquired objects related to Ripken’s career from Thomas Tull, a private collector and museum board member. The Tull donation includes a baseball glove from 1999, a bat from the 1993–1994 era used by Ripken and a baseball signed by him and other members of the Baltimore Orioles.
The “Great Americans” program, supported by David M. Rubenstein, chair of the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents, includes a conversation between Rubenstein and the recipient with the presentation of a newly minted museum medal that recognizes lifetime contributions that embody American ideals and ideas.
“Cal Ripken Jr. is an inspiration not only for the skill and dedication he displayed on the field, but also for his continued commitment to community service, expanding access to baseball through his charitable foundation,” said Eric Jentsch, the museum’s sports curator.
Ripken is known as baseball’s all-time “Iron Man” for setting of the record for consecutive games played. A native of Aberdeen, Maryland, Ripken was born in 1960. He spent 21 seasons with his hometown Baltimore Orioles before retiring from baseball Oct. 6, 2001. Although he began and finished his career at third base, Ripken is still best known for redefining the position of shortstop. With his family, he established the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation in 2001 to improve the lives of underserved youth across the country. Today, the foundation operates in 43 states and has built and gifted more than 70 youth-development parks, multi-purpose turf fields that provide kids with safe places to play. Ripken has served as commissioner for the White House Tee Ball Initiative to promote teamwork and volunteerism. In 2007, Ripken was named special public diplomacy envoy for the U.S. State Department which has taken him to China, Japan, Nicaragua and the Czech Republic. In 2015, he was named special advisor to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on youth programs and outreach.
Throughout his career, Ripken has broken records and been awarded honors for his ability and dedication to baseball. He was an American League Rookie of the Year (’82), a two-time American League Most Valuable Player (’83, ’91), a two-time Gold Glove recipient (’91, ’92), a 19-time All- Star and a two-time All-Star Most Valuable Player (’91, ’01). Ripken holds the record for most consecutive games played (2,632) and is known as one of only 10 players in history to achieve 400 home runs and 3,000 hits. In 2007, Ripken was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Ripken is working to grow the game of baseball at the grassroots level. In addition to his foundation, his business, Ripken Baseball, operates three youth baseball complexes called “The Ripken Experience.” The first is in his hometown of Aberdeen with others in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
The museum will present Ripken Jr. with a medal struck in 1.85 ounces of fine gold in Wisconsin. It features an American eagle with rays of the sun on the obverse or “head’s side” with the words “Great Americans” and “National Museum of American History” struck around the image. The reverse side honors one of the museum’s most important treasures, the Star-Spangled Banner, and includes the mission of the Smithsonian: “For the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” It measures approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter and was inspired by the rare Double Eagle coins in the museum’s National Numismatic Collection, which were designed by famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens for the $20 gold piece. The medal was made possible by museum board member Jeff Garrett and designed by Michael Guilfoyle, an international designer of coins and medals.
The “Great Americans” medal is presented annually to up to four recipients and includes an interview with the awardee moderated by Rubenstein and the opportunity for the museum to add objects to the national collections. More information is available at https://americanhistory.si.edu/great-americans.
Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It is located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.