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Twenty-six years ago today, Baltimore Orioles star Cal Ripken played in his 2,131st consecutive major league game, surpassing a record set by Lou Gehrig that was once considered unassailable.

Cal Ripken's ironman feat came one season after the World Series had been canceled due to a confluence of factors that included the owners' greed, the commissioner's cowardice, and the players' obliviousness to their own sport's historical traditions. The following season, as a counterweight the massive ill-will this had caused, the baseball gods offered fans two remedies: The beauty of the game itself and the unsurpassed work ethic of Calvin Edwin Ripken Jr.

In the fifth inning of the Sept. 6, 1995, Orioles' game against the visiting California Angels -- when the game became official -- Ripken took a victory lap around the stadium while receiving a 22-minute standing ovation. That night, Cal also went 2 for 4, including a home run, while leading the hometown team to a win. Among those in attendance at sold-out Camden Yards were President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, both of whom visited the Orioles' clubhouse before the game. I was there, too, as was an accomplished amateur photographer named Tipper Gore. (I covered the White House for the Baltimore Sun then and had drawn "pool duty" that night, so Tipper, God bless her heart, took a picture of me and Cal standing side-by-side on his big occasion.)

There was a larger picture in play that night, and Bill Clinton was astute enough to see it. He spoke several times about the important symbolic nature of the occasion as he took to using baseball as a metaphor for all that was good in America.

Baseball binds Americans of different regions, races, and generations, Clinton observed, and "teaches us to play as hard as we can and still be friends when the game is over, to respect our differences, and to be able to lose with dignity as well as win with joy."

As for Ripken's record, Clinton would invoke this lesson many times:

"While baseball provides role models, it also helps us recognize these American values in everyday life," said the 42nd U.S. president. "I saw a story about ... a bus driver who hadn't missed a day's work in 18 years. Had it not been for Cal Ripken, we would never have had the opportunity to meet this wonderful man or to appreciate the hard work that he and millions and millions of other Americans do every day just by showing up for work." 

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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