There are two main paths to becoming a sports legend: you can be the best to ever play your sport, defying convention and blowing by the records at every turn, like Michael Jordan; or you can be a decent (if not spectacular) player, but allow your unflagging work ethic to make you an integral part of your team, like Cal Ripken.
Cal Ripken Junior was born in Maryland, played 20 seasons for the Orioles, and retired to start a developmental team in their minor league system - it's safe to say that when cut, he probably bleeds orange. Cal won the American League Rookie of the year award in 1982, and the A.L. MVP award one year later while leading Baltimore to a World Series championship. His unbelievable career is actually overshadowed by one singular record. Ripken shattered Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played - breaking the old mark of 2,130 games and setting a new standard with 2,632. The record is impressive in and of itself, but the timing of the chase was perfect. Baseball had alienated much of its fan base with the players' strike and the cancellation of the World Series in 1994, and it was the dogged determination of Cal Ripken chasing Lou Gehrig's record that brought thousands of fans back to the game.
McFarlane has been cranking out the sports figures for a few years now, and they've long since exhausted the supply of marketable players (some many times over). In order to move forward, Todd's looking back, giving us some of the biggest names in the history of sports. For the MLB, that look back is the Cooperstown Collection.
The idea is a good one - even if you don't care about current ballplayers, these guys are icons. Who hasn't heard of Babe Ruth or Willie Mays? But it really shows how big Cal Ripken is that he's included in this series: it is called the Cooperstown Collection, after all, and Cal won't even be eligible for the Hall of Fame for two more years. Sure, he's pretty much a lock for induction the first year he's on the ballot, but still.
Though his career started and ended at third base, Ripken is best known for his game-redefining stint at shortstop, and that's what this figure represents - he's hunkered down to scoop up a quick grounder. Back in the day, shortstops were tiny, wiry little guys who were quick on their feet, but could barely get the bat around. Then-manager Earl Weaver decided to give the 6'4", 225-lb. Ripken a tryout at the position when he came up from the minors, and the kid proved to be so good that the patch between second and third was his for more than a decade.
At this point, do we even need to say that the sculpt is completely accurate? McSports figures reuse bodies more than even Hasbro, but this isn't one that I recall seeing before. Love those crazy old stirrups or garters or whatever they are down the sides of his socks. The uniform is white, with just thin orange and black stripes running along the seams. The O's vacillate between ornithologically correct birds and cartoon birds as their emblem every so often, and in 1983 they were sporting the animated version. The cap is black with a white front panel and an orange brim.
In any case, with a figure like this, the real clincher is the likeness, and McToys delivered. Believe me, you grow up near Baltimore, and you recognize Cal Ripken when you see him - after all, you've seen him every day of your life, in ads for car insurance, theme parks, cameras, orange juice and pretty much everything else. Like Jordan, the guy got around.
This is Cal circa 1983, when he won the MVP and helped take the Orioles to the World Series. It's a shame they couldn't have given us an older version of the guy, since that's when he really became famous and started receiving all the attention. Making Cal when he still had brown hair is like making Babe Ruth before he turned into a fat, drunken, abusive, cancer-ridden slob: sure, it may seem to "honor" the glory days, but it's not the version we know. No mistaking those bright blue eyes, though.
Articulation is... well, let's not ruin an otherwise positive review by bringing negatives into it. The figure's got one pose, and he looks adequate in it. Let us never speak of this again.
The McSports figures always come with a little display base, which is how we know this is shortstop Cal - there's no base on his base. No baseline, either, which seems a bit odd. Anyway, we get a strip of grass bordering the dirt track, with clearly defined spots for Cal's feet.
The set includes a baseball on a clear plastic rod - plug it into its place in the grass, and the ball's just taken a hop. Or, if you prefer, you can tuck it into the glove and call it an out. Hell, call it two outs: another pair of records Ripken holds are the most double plays by an AL shortstop (1,565) and most grounders converted into double plays (350).
Playing professional sports is a fickle endeavor: you could be the best player to ever set foot on the field, but one injury and you're done forever. That's why it seems so odd to make figures of current players - the toy hits shelves on Thursday and the guy could be retired by Friday. Ah, but the classics? The classics never go out of style. And 2,632 consecutive games is more than classic; it's iron.
What classic players (any sport) do you want to see made? Tell us on our message board, the Loafing Lounge.