Legends on Both Sides of Main Street- Honoring Haynie and Ripken

It was a legendary night on Main Street — the big dilemma was deciding which legendary ceremony to attend.

On the north side of Main, at the Frazier History Museum, it was the preview reception for “Hugh Haynie: The Art of Opinion”. Across Main, at the Slugger Museum, it was the preview exhibition for the 10th annual Auction, where Cal Ripken Jr. was receiving a Lifetime Legend award.

I stopped first at Frazier, where a few hundred well-dressed fans of the late cartoonist stood in a grand hall and on a stairwell as Haynie’s famous images were projected on the screen. Keith Runyon, retired Opinion Page Editor at the Courier-Journal, introduced two former Mayors, a Congressman and the paper’s current cartoonist, who shared their stories about Haynie, who spent nearly four decades drawing images for the newspaper.

Those years, ending in 1996, may well be remembered as the glory days of newspapers. Jerry Abramson told a story of carrying around a Haynie cartoon of his political hero, Robert F. Kennedy, until it was tattered beyond recognition. John Yarmuth spoke of his admiration for Haynie’s ability of convey ideas in a drawing with more clarity than he could do in 800 words during his days at LEO Weekly.

For me, delivering the C-J in the South End in the 1970s, I remember how I read the paper. Sports first, to see what Billy Reed was writing about, then the editorial page to see the Haynie cartoon. Thankfully, every year the C-J still runs what may be his best-known work, the iconic Christmas cartoon with Jesus behind a man wondering if he’s forgotten anyone.

Haynie works are on display there through January 26, and I’ll have to go back to see them. I left during the ceremony because I didn’t want to miss the action across the street.

That was where one of my true heroes was holding court. If you’re into baseball memorabilia, this is your big annual event. If you like autographed baseballs, jerseys, or knick-knacks once owned or touched by baseball legends, this is the place to be. But I was there to see Cal Ripken, Jr.

On Sept. 6, 1995, most of America was glued to their television sets as Ripken played in his 2,131st consecutive game, breaking one of the game’s all-time records. He also reached beyond baseball to become a symbol of the American work ethic, idolized as a guy who simply showed up for work every day. As Ripken took a victory lap around Camden Yards when his record became official, people everywhere got emotional — I got misty-eyed.  I’m sure I told my young sons to remember this man and this moment — none like it will ever come again.

Ripken and I were born in the same week in 1960. It’s humbling to consider all he’s accomplished in the same number of days on the Earth that I’ve had. We were 35 when he set the record, 38 when he ended the streak a few years later. I always joked that despite his accomplishments, at least I’ve still got my hair.

In his actions and remarks at the Slugger ceremony, Ripken showed why he’s considered one of the classiest acts ever to put on a uniform. In retirement, he’s dedicated his time to setting up ballparks for kids under a foundation he set up to honor his father, Cal, Sr.  It helps kids in distressed communities live better, healthier lives. Ripken plays a key role in the Foundation by visiting sites and offering hands-on instruction.

There’s simply no negatives in Ripken’s story — the work ethic that kept him playing every day for 2,632 games is now channeled into making the Foundation a success. Ripken told a great story about ending the streak — that he decided to end it 10 minutes before game time, and how he had to push his replacement on the field, and then how everyone on the Yankees, their opponent that day, went to the dugout steps and gave him a standing ovation.

There’s no one like him in the game today. His record streak is safe — the longest current streak in the game is 505. And no one plays with as much class, either.

Two iconic heroes, two whose work touched thousands of people here and around the world, celebrated 200 feet apart. It was a special night on Main Street.