Skip to Content

There is another story to tell about Cal [Ripken], a story that Deb Schubert (immediate Past President of the MSBA) has urged me, repeatedly, to tell while recalling certain experiences while I served as MSBA President in 2001–2002. My reticence to do so over the past 14 years has a lot to do with the inescapable emotional overlay of 9/11 that year. But I have reminded myself of the story in recent weeks as I struggled to wrap my brain around terrorism in Paris.

Cal announced in June, 2001 that it was to be his last season. He reasonably could expect to finish his career with more than 3000 games, a lifetime batting average over .280. The script seemingly was written that he would become the All Star Game’s MVP in July. Cal spent many exhausting hours that season signing autographs for thousands of fans lined up at ballparks across the country to see Cal play ball one last time. Cal spoke to every sportswriter in the world. The exhausting schedule took its toll on Cal. He was struggling at the plate and suffered his worst batting average at .239 for the season. But he did not ease up on his effort to respond to every fan who wanted to shake his hand, take his picture, get his autograph, for hours at a time. 

That summer, as I took office as President of the Maryland State Bar Association, I had already arranged to take my Board of Governors to the Camden Club for its first meeting after the summer break—and we would adjourn in time to watch one of Cal’s last home games, against the Toronto Blue Jays, on September 11, 2001.

We all have our personal stories and recollections as to where we were, how we felt, as we watched the twin towers collapse, the Pentagon burn. Our collective fears and grief were compounded for many of us with family at or near those locations. For me, talking to Paul Carlin that morning quickly yielded the decision to cancel or postpone the Board meeting, leaving me to help locate and get my Brooklyn-based nephew and niece out of Manhattan.

Then, as the dust literally began to settle, and the abject horror of the collapsing twin towers sank in, members of the Maryland bar started to respond, especially to plan to address the legal needs and estate concerns of the Pentagon’s survivors, victims, and first responders. Maryland lawyers responded and demonstrated the very best qualities of professionalism at the bar. In my inaugural speech as MSBA President, I had drawn on Justice Powell’s example (with a good bit of Charlie Dorsey, as well) to describe the qualities of professionalism at the bar, as I had tried to define it in my inaugural speech, especially ‘competence, compassion, civility, unquestioned integrity, commitment to community, and overarching respect for both the rule of law and the role of lawyers.’

[In the meantime], baseball was suspended for a week, until play resumed for games already scheduled for September 18. The games not played from September 11 through September 17, were rescheduled to proceed on October 1 through October 6, now to be the last game of the season. In the aftermath of 9/11, my Board certainly had a lot of serious business to address, and the Board’s meeting had to be rescheduled. Certainly, consideration of Cal’s last season as a player took a back seat to the critical issues following from 9/11, but cost and convenience prompted me to convene the postponed Board meeting back at the Camden Club on October 1, 2001, the rescheduled date for the September 11 game.

[So], late in the afternoon, on October 1, the Board did convene on the seventh floor of the Warehouse, in the Camden Club, overlooking Oriole Park—not too far from the windows where the ‘2130’ and ‘2131’ numbers had been draped on the side of the Warehouse six years earlier. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful view of the ballpark. As I conducted the meeting and we had gotten down to business, there began an undercurrent of noise, distracting murmurs and whispering. When murmurs turned to questions of wonder, then shouts of amazement, we had all turned to look out onto the field. There was a single, solitary figure in the huge expanse of the ballyard. He was standing alone at home plate and swinging a bat, taking cuts in between picking balls out of a large bucket, setting each on the blue tee set on home plate, and swinging through the ball on the tee. 

Absolutely nobody else was on the field, no one in the stands. That solitary figure was Cal Ripken, taking swing after swing, hitting stroke after stroke, working it, working it hard. Cal was working, still working, to get his swing back, to do his job, to help the team, to be prepared, working it hard to play the game as best as he knew how. Less than a week remained in the last season of his career, but his job was not over. He was working, preparing to do his job. There could be no quitting, no slacking off, no excuses, even now.

So, that’s the apocryphal-like (but true) story that others at the Board meeting that day think is worth repeating. They are correct. (It was Deb Schubert’s first BoG meeting). But I will offer additional subtext, a sidebar to that story, even a parable for our times as we are besieged by new and unrelenting horrors of terrorism, senseless tragedies of violence coming at us day after day. Sometimes it seems that all we can do, all we must do, is our jobs. Especially as lawyers and judges, with each echo of 9/11 and each instance of senseless or profane violence, we must make sure that we don’t slack off or fail to do our jobs in any respect.

1Excerpted from Hon. Pamela J. White’s address, “Three (or more) Baseball Stories and the True Meaning of Professionalism,” at the Rule Day Law Club, December 8, 2015.