Just remember something when you’re glued to the TV tonight, heart in your throat as Barry tries to put one out: none of it could have happened if a certain Bawlmer shortstop hadn’t “saved” the game.

What’s that? You have other plans? Yeah, me too. Anyway, from behind the WWL pay wall (thank you, magazine subscription) Rob Neyer points to Tim Marchman’s New York Sun piece on The Myth of Cal.

Here was a man who stood for old-fashioned American values. Born and raised in Maryland, the son of a humble baseball journeyman, he played for his hometown team and made his name not with the obscene physical talent of a Henderson, but because of his hard work and dedication, best symbolized, of course, by his signature trait – his overwhelming need to just show up for work. No pampered, spoiled athlete he; this was someone with whom any factory worker or policeman or smalltown mortgage broker could identify, someone who just punched the clock every day and tried his hardest, quietly and with pride.

This was, of course, the most ridiculous nonsense it’s possible to imagine. Cal Ripken was 6 feet 4 inches, 225 pounds., built like a god, and blessed with enough athleticism that he probably would have been a truly great basketball player. He wasn’t the best possible version of David Eckstein or Joe McEwing, but the most physically gifted player in the sport. What made him unique was the overwhelming effect of his personal dedication and discipline on his unparalleled natural gifts; by all accounts, no one worked harder. But the myth of Ripken located his greatness in his will, as if will were sufficient to command the greatest heights of achievement. It isn’t.

I greatly admire Cal Ripken, but despise this myth. It grounded his appeal in resentment of supposedly lazy and greedy (and often black) modern players who didn’t appreciate the gifts with which they were born and the rewards to which those gifts entitled them. That all the boogeymen and preening villains to whom Ripken was contrasted throughout his career, from the joyous Henderson to the odious Bonds, all worked just as hard as he did, and enjoyed the rightful fruits of their labor no more than he did, never really seemed to register.

Indeed, even if you think Bonds is guilty guilty guilty, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t work. Though I don’t think The Wire creator David Simon’s truism about drug addicts would apply to wealthy alleged steroid users.

Also, didn’t Marchman mean to say “the best possible version of David Eckstein or Joe McEwing or Billly Ripken?” And I’m guessing if GC was writing this, he’d point out that Joe McEwing has always been the best possible version of Joe McEwing (and always will be).