Each time, Ripken, the Orioles' legend, responded the same way: He didn't want to reflect on his accomplishments while his career was ongoing. He said he'd put all thoughts about a potential Hall of Fame induction on hold until he was on the ballot and voters had decided whether he was worthy of being enshrined with the sport's greats.
The Baseball Writers' Association of America officially announced its 2007 Hall of Fame ballot yesterday, and Ripken - along with other first-timers Tony Gwynn, an eight-time batting champ for the San Diego Padres, and controversial slugger Mark McGwire - heads a list of 32 candidates.
Ballots will be sent to about 575 voters Friday and must be returned by Dec. 31. The voting results will be announced at 2 p.m. on Jan. 9. The 2007 induction ceremony will be held July 29 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Ripken, a 19-time All Star and two-time Most Valuable Player who set baseball's consecutive-games-played record while amassing 3,184 hits and 431 homers, is considered a virtual lock in his first year of eligibility.
He is one of 17 first-year candidates, a group that also includes fellow native Marylander and Ripken's teammate for parts of seven seasons, designated hitter Harold Baines. Other former Orioles in their first year of eligibility are outfielders Eric Davis and Bobby Bonilla.
There are also 15 holdovers from the 2006 ballot, including former Orioles Albert Belle and Lee Smith, who had the sixth-highest total (234 votes or 45 percent) last year.
To gain induction, a player must be named on 75 percent of submitted ballots - which would mean Ripken needs about 432 votes, assuming all voters participate.
Last year, there were 520 submitted ballots, and only longtime closer Bruce Sutter gained induction. Boston Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice (64.8 percent) and New York Yankees closer Rich Gossage (64.6 percent) are the top returning vote-getters.
If neither Rice nor Gossage picks up 50-plus additional votes, the 2007 class likely would only include Ripken and Gwynn, with McGwire as the wild card.
The St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland Athletics first baseman hit 583 home runs, seventh all-time. But suspicion that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his career, including in his then-record 70-homer season in 1998, clouds his candidacy.