Group gives Ripken a much-needed assist


Cal Ripken is big.

He's 6 feet 4.

There's the 1,735-game streak that assures a daily mention in the media. And his nearly automatic All-Star appearances.

He dominates the sports landscape in a way that makes the base- ball star virtually a cottage industry.

His trading cards are always in demand. He's been a spokesman for milk. His candy-bar namesake is a new and popular fund-raiser. His autograph is popular among charity groups, and the requests for it never seem to stop. Groups ask that he spend a few of his non-playing hours with them. The mail addressed to him in care of the Orioles can't be handled at the park -- the club delivers it to him by the bagful.

So who's taking care of all the correspondence while Ripken handles his baseball business? For the past six months, it's been The Tufton Group.

The Tufton Group doesn't print or sell trading cards, manufacture Ripken merchandise or candy bars.

It does, according to Ripken's agent, Ron Shapiro, field requests for Ripken's autographs, personal appearances and RTC endorsement opportunities. Shapiro describes it as "a multi-purpose service organization to take care of the requests."

Such matters, which used to go through Shapiro's office, now are handled by three full-time Tufton employees (part-timers as needed).

"It became much more efficient to set up an office," for Ripken, says Shapiro.

"This whole thing was as much Cal's idea as it was anyone's," he says. "He has good business instincts."

Shapiro says the Tufton staff receives about 25 charitable autograph requests a day in addition to fans' autograph requests, people hoping to use Ripken's name on their products and groups requesting grants from the Kelly and Cal Ripken Jr. Foundation. Using Ripken's guidelines, the staff studies all requests and passes those that are appropriate to Ripken for his consideration.

Products Ripken has said yes to include the Cal Bar, a video game and a Cal cap (the one he wears on the Cal Bar wrapper). All licensing fees for the use of his name or likeness benefit the foundation.

Collect while you eat

Upper Deck and McDonald's have teamed for a 50-card NBA set. Three-card packs are free with a qualifying purchase or 59 cents with other menu items. Each pack contains at least two cards from the set.

Among the eight rookies in the set are Shaquille O'Neal, Walt Williams and Tom Gugliotta.

Ryan and history

Baseball statistics buffs, history lovers and Nolan Ryan fans will enjoy an eight-card subset in the third edition of the Conlan Collection, available this month.

Commentary on back of the cards is by Bill James.

Auction time

A Babe Ruth putter that was on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame is one of the lots in Sotheby's third annual sports memorabilia auction set for Saturday.

Other items of interest are the uniform Gary Cooper wore in the movie "Pride of the Yankees," a program from the game in which Lou Gehrig's streak ended and a program from the first All-Star Game. For information or to order a catalog, call (212) 606-7176.

Coming events

Through Oct. 31, exhibit on Rex Barney's 50-year sports career, with memorabilia from his Brooklyn Dodgers days, Babe Ruth Museum, (410) 727-1539.

April 10, card show to benefit American Cancer Society, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and United Cerebral Palsy Association, Pikesville Armory, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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