Those who can't do, teach. A common saying, and a fallacy.
For proof, look no farther than Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr., inducted today into the baseball Hall of Fame for staggering statistics and impeccable personal conduct.
In a day or two, they will be back at work.
Gwynn is in his sixth year as head coach at his alma mater, San Diego State University, a job with all the glamour of a maintenance engineer. He manicures the field, tosses towels in hampers, hits fungoes and spends quality time with players on the intricacies of hitting to the opposite field and passing mid-terms.
Ripken is fast becoming the foremost youth baseball instructor in America, running camps and tournaments from facilities he's developed, authoring instructional books and DVDs, and overseeing 75,000 youngsters playing in the Cal Ripken Baseball Division. He's making money, to be sure, but appears genuinely motivated by wanting as many kids as possible to "Play Baseball the Ripken Way," which happens to be the title of his New York Times best-selling guidebook.
Teaching baseball is a labor of love for both men, and it is extraordinary. Often those who achieve at the highest level are too self-absorbed to derive pleasure out of helping others. Yet almost immediately after retiring as players, Gwynn and Ripken shifted focus away from themselves.
Said Gwynn: "That's the impact we wanted to have, passing stuff on, and to do it not under the scrutiny of the Major Leagues. I love what I do. First and foremost, I'm the baseball coach at San Diego State."
Said Ripken: "The passion to teach the game at a grassroots level came from my dad, who spent a lifetime as a minor league coach. I could sense how much he enjoyed it when a player grasped something he taught and started moving up the ladder to the big leagues. That never left me."
Neither Gwynn nor Ripken considers the knowledge that enabled them to accumulate more than 3,000 hits and excel in all phases of the game proprietary. They first realized that about each another when they met more than 20 years ago while playing for an MLB team on a goodwill tour of Japan.
"We sat together in the back of the bus many times, caught in traffic, and amused ourselves through hitting conversations," Ripken said. "You want to get Tony going, talk hitting. He'd be standing in the aisle in his stance, sharing everything he knew. In a weird way, he reminded me of Dad."
Cal Ripken Sr. always brought along his young son to clinics he would hold on Saturday mornings throughout the Eastern seaboard. Youth coaches, high school coaches, and players of all ages flocked to them. Anybody was welcome.
"Dad had a gift and a way to simplify and teach a concept you could build off of," Ripken said. "So when I saw him teach, I knew how much he loved the game, and that love was passed on to me."
By the 1990s, when Ripken was in his playing prime, he held clinics with his father and brother, Billy, a major league infielder. Cal Sr. died in 1999, but his legacy lives through his sons. The impact of Cal Ripken Baseball Division, along with the camps and tournaments held for elite youth travel teams – which Billy helps run too – is staggering.
"It's humongous," Gwynn said. "I'm talking about 39 guys on one (college) team. He's talking about millions of kids."
Making a difference one player at a time can be equally rewarding. Gwynn was admired as a player for taking the time to mentor rookies, even when they weren't San Diego Padres teammates. Now his personal touch is evident in recruiting and developing college players – most of whom will never make the major leagues.
"I'm a teacher, No. 1," he said. "That's the way I look at this job, and that's where I'm most comfortable. But I'm also a salesman. I have to sell people on our baseball program and sell the kids on our style of play.
"Cal has to be that way too at times. He's got a business to promote in order for his message to reach as many kids as possible. I can say for me, and I'm sure it's probably the same for him, I'm most comfortable in the dugout, in the batting cage, teaching the game."
Gwynn reflected on the statue of him unveiled at the Padres' Petco Park recently. It shows him swinging the bat at the point of contact with the ball.
He chose the pose.
"What you hope is that Little League coaches bring their players to that statue and say, 'That's what you want to do,'" he said.
A teaching moment. Eternal.
- Tony Gwynn