Soon after Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. overcame their fear of public speaking, somebody tried to usher them back into the sad reality of sports in today's society.
The question - delivered at the Hall of Fame's post-induction news conference - was about the immediate juxtaposition of yesterday's uplifting induction ceremony and Barry Bonds' controversial pursuit of Hank Aaron's all-time home run record, but neither Tony nor Cal would bite.
"What a great day today is," Gwynn said pointedly, " ... 75,000 people."
Ripken expanded slightly on the same theme - that Hall of Fame Sunday ought not be sullied by such considerations.
"It is a great celebration of baseball," he said. "We should take a step back from all the controversy. Let's bask in our celebration of the Hall of Fame. Maybe we'll answer that tomorrow."
Frankly, I hope not, because that would mean that yesterday's ceremony was just an island of purity in the polluted sea we call professional sports. I would rather look at the induction of Ripken and Gwynn - two athletes who did it right and always carried themselves well - as an indication that the good guys are going to win in the end.
When Gwynn talked during his acceptance speech about the importance of community service, you just had to look back at his career to see he wasn't just playing to the cameras. When Cal exhorted the new generation of professional athletes to make a positive and tangible impact on youth, he already had put that philosophy to work on several levels.
"I'd like to appeal to all the big leaguers out there," Ripken said afterward. "If they've got a little money they want to put back into their communities, take the lead."
It was no accident that the biggest crowd in induction history showed up for yesterday's ceremony, even if the two honorees weren't ready - as Cal put it - to read too much into it.
"It's easy to pound your chest and say it's all me, but it's not," he said. "We all want to leave our mark on the game, but baseball continues long after we put our gloves down. [The record crowd] is a symbol that it's alive, it's popular and it's good."
Fair enough, but if it were only that, there would not have been countless signs in the crowd alluding to the two "Classy Gentlemen" who would have their bronze likenesses mounted in the Hall of Fame Gallery late yesterday afternoon.
Sports fans want their games back. They want to talk about statistics, not steroids. They want to be able to turn on SportsCenter and not have to explain to a 10-year-old what it means to "make it rain" at a strip club. They wish baseball didn't need a Mitchell investigation and football didn't need a Goodell doctrine.
Ripken and Gwynn obviously know that, though both chose to tiptoe through all the controversies of the day and touch only generally on the notion that they represent what America wants in its sports heroes.
"I played on one team in one city, and so did Cal," Gwynn said. "Fans feel comfortable with us because they could trust us and trust how we played the game and conducted ourselves, especially in this time of negativity."
We can only hope the next generation of professional athletes was watching as the ESPN cameras panned the giant crowd. We can only hope it grasps what it was about the Hall of Fame Class of 2007 that struck such a chord with the fans who traveled across the country to see Gwynn or the multitudes that flocked north from Baltimore.
For one day, we didn't have to think about Michael Vick or the NBA referee scandal. For one day, we didn't want to ponder whether Bonds deserved to break Aaron's hallowed record. For one day, we wanted to believe in something.
And one other thing. We don't want it to just be yesterday.
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