Years later, Ripken need not distance himself from Gehrig anymore. They will soon be brothers in baseball's most cherished fraternity, the Hall of Fame, and Ripken's visit Wednesday as part of his orientation provided the opportunity for him to make a connection with the man he replaced as the game's iron horse.
As part of the private tour Cal and his wife, Kelly, were given by chief curator Ted Spencer along with Hall board chairman Jane Clark and president Dale Petroskey, Ripken held a glove Gehrig used in his early years and the No. 4 Yankees jersey he wore in 1939, his final season. John O'Dell, another Hall curator, also showed the Ripkens a bottle used to christen the USS Gehrig, a naval vessel built during World War II that landed in Normandy several days after the June 6, 1944 invasion.
"The glove, when you have it in your hand, it's like you're in touch with another era, which I thought was a cool thing about the streak," Ripken said. "After the cancellation of the  World Series, I thought down deep inside that the fans wanted something to attach themselves onto that was kind of real, that went back to a time in baseball when it was considered a game, I guess. And the streak, at the time, was that sort of moment that connected people to a feeling of baseball that went back. So that holding his glove, you feel a little kinship or connection to that time."
Linking generations is part of the Hall's credo, and Ripken received a strong dose of that during what has become an annual ritual here. Induction Weekend, which this year will be July 27-29, is such a hectic period for the inductees that the Hall invites them here during the spring so they can tour the museum, meet the staff and enjoy the experience without the stress associated with the induction. Tony Gwynn, who will go into the Hall along with Ripken, is due here later in the month.
"Since the announcement, I'm being congratulated everywhere I go," Ripken said. "It's kind of a weird feeling, as if you're getting married or you're having a kid. That's kind of cool. There's a saturation point. You want to actually get on with it and get it over with, so to speak. As much attention as I have gotten at different times in my career, I would give in to the concept of 'roll with it.' It's easier to control that way. Don't try to fight it, it's a positive thing. You're proud of what you have accomplished, but at the same time, don't overdo it."
Ripken is taking the same attitude toward his Hall induction as he did in 1995, when he was zeroing in on Gehrig's legacy in a season following the most destructive labor action in the game's history. It caused the elimination of postseason play for the first time in 90 years.
"I didn't set out to break Lou Gehrig's record," Ripken said. "I wasn't obsessed with breaking the record. It was something that just happened. And it happened because I was taught that it's your job to come out to play every day. The managers put me in there, I responded, and the streak was formed. The numbers kept growing larger and the comparisons to Lou Gehrig's unbreakable record kept being made. I think I pushed Lou away because I didn't want to change my approach, because that really wasn't the reason it started.
"But now, in hindsight, you wish you had the chance to ask him what he was thinking, how he went through it. I'd love to be able to know the answer from him. Was it an extension of his approach, did it happen by accident or did he actually set out to do that? Here, you're able to see images, to be able to hold his glove, to get a feeling of who he was. You still don't get to ask the question about what the streak meant to him and how it came to be. From what I hear, it seemed to be a sense of responsibility, a sort of old-fashioned value that it was your job, and that's what I hope it would be."
Ripken may never get that answer, but the streak is only part of his historic career, one that included two Most Valuable Player Award seasons, more than 3,000 hits, more than 400 home runs, a 1983 World Series championship, Gold Glove Awards and a record total of consecutive All-Star Game appearances with two MVP Awards in those, too.
Cal and Kelly made the six-hour drive from their home in Maryland to central New York State on Wednesday and began the tour in the Giamatti Research Center where chief librarian Jim Gates, a lifelong Orioles fan, had set out some artifacts. Among them were the clip files of Cal as well as his father, Cal Sr., and brother, Bill, plus some famous box scores.
There was the 33-inning Triple-A game in 1981 between Ripken's Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox that featured Wade Boggs at third base. Cal glanced at the sheet of paper and winced at his 2-for-13 line.
"It makes me think about how fast your career goes," Ripken said. "It's less about looking at that moment, but the realization to me is that it's a snapshot back to close to the beginning to where you are now, and that there was a lot of stuff that went on in between -- but that it happened in a rapid pace."
There were also box scores from his 2,131st consecutive game that broke Gehrig's mark; his 2,632nd game, the last of the streak; and the Sept. 20, 1998 game, when he did not play for the first time in 17 years. The latter shows that the official scorer, David Hughes, used white-out to replace Ripken's name in the lineup with that of Ryan Minor, who started that game at third base.
"I remember Ryan almost didn't take the field because he thought it was a rookie prank," Ripken said.
A large table covered with photographs took the Ripkens across every level of Cal's career. There was one of all three Ripkens standing on the dugout steps in Baltimore.
"When you start reflecting, you get a little mushy," Ripken said. "The visual images of Dad did that to me today."
One photo illustrated that he did not always wear No. 8. While at Rochester, Ripken wore No. 5, which he would not get in Baltimore because it was retired for Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson.
"I didn't wear No. 8 until my first big-league camp," Ripken said. "I was just glad they didn't give me a number in the seventies."
There were so many pictures that nearly all of Ripken's hundreds of stances were visible. "I can't remember all the stances, but I can remember the reasons why I changed them," he said.
Kelly particularly liked shots taken of the family in "Grease" jackets that were autographed by John Travolta, who starred in the 1978 film version of the Broadway musical.
"That's Cal's favorite show," Kelly said. "He can sing all the songs, even Sandy's part."
The Gehrig memorabilia was part of the archive section, which is a sort of catacomb within the Hall. On shelves are boxes containing uniforms. On another wall are boxes filled with baseballs signed by Hall of Famers going back to Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson.
"I'm not sure you could backhand with this glove," Ripken said while holding Gehrig's comparatively tiny first baseman's model.
After Bruce Brodersen, the Hall's multimedia director, showed a 20-minute film of Ripken's career in the Bullpen Theater, the Ripkens met the Hall's staff at a reception in the library atrium. The tour then moved into the gallery, where Ripken's and Gwynn's plaques will soon hang among the other greats. Spencer showed Ripken Gehrig's plaque, which was among a quartet that included Willie Keller, Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourne and Buck Ewing.
"Good wall over here," Ripken said.
Spencer directed Ripken through the various exhibits. The one Ripken seemed most taken with was the one pertaining to the changes in ballparks over the years. Ripken particularly enjoyed a 1902 photo of the Palace of Fans in Cincinnati, which featured a Grecian-styled structure in the stands behind the plate.
"I always thought something like that would be perfect for the new park in Washington," Ripken said. "D.C. is a place that's fitting for that."
Ripken is no stranger to ballpark construction, having overseen that of his Minor League club in Aberdeen, Md.
"I played at Memorial Stadium for 10 years and Camden Yards for 10 years," he said. "Camden Yards sort of changed the design for a lot of new stadiums that came in towards the tail end of my career. I was interested in the functional design of the clubhouses and the cages and tried to take that magic down to the kids. I don't know why I'm interested in that, but it's certainly something I am drawn to."
Kelly broke free from the four for a time to discuss with Hall officials arrangements for Induction Weekend. The Ripkens anticipate 325 guests attending the ceremonies. The arrangement the Ripkens made is that Kelly is in charge of handling the entourage and Cal is in charge of writing his speech.
"I haven't put pen to paper," Ripken said. "You hope the words and ideas will come to you. It's a lot to think about. It doesn't go just to the 21 years you played but to way back to when you were a kid, so it covers your whole life as you remember it."
It is easy in Cooperstown to feel distanced from reality. Just Wednesday morning, a report surfaced about former Sen. George Mitchell's investigation into steroids centering on medical records being sought from the Orioles. How the steroids issue clouds Barry Bonds' pursuit of Hank Aaron's home run record was too obvious to ignore.
"The fact that there is a cast of suspicion around that naturally has made it not as big a celebration," Ripken said. "How do you interpret that? I don't know. I would like to think that until there's evidence or proof that [Bonds] has done something, then he will be given the benefit of the doubt. There's a lot of speculation and suspicion, so it's hard for me to figure out what that means.
"I've never gotten caught up with numbers and or records. You let your talent take you to whatever level it can. When people ask me if someone were to break my record and there was some suspicion about them perhaps being on the juice, how would that make me feel, I say that it wouldn't be about me, it would be about that person. It doesn't diminish your accomplishment."
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.