In 2008, Rickey Henderson will be eligible for the Hall Of Fame- that is if he can manage to stay “retired”. Rickey Henderson owns some of the most important records in baseball history, and he still holds out hope that he will get a chance to add to them, even though he will be 48 on Christmas Day. Nicknamed the “Man of Steal” because of his unprecedented success swiping bases, Rickey Henderson scored more runs and stole more bases than any other player. He surpassed the former stolen base king, Lou Brock, by so much that the difference between their totals (468) would make the top 25 on the all-time list.
Rickey Henderson began his career playing for the Oakland A’s in 1979; the next year the A’s hired manager Billy Martin. Playing an aggressive brand of ball that came to be known as “Billyball”, Martin turned Rickey Henderson loose on the base paths and the swift right-handed hitting outfielder set a new American League record with an even 100 in 126 attempts. Rickey Henderson showed a great batting eye that year by drawing 117 walks. Seven times Rickey Henderson would surpass the century mark in walks for a season; nineteen times he drew more than eighty! The high walk totals, the stolen bases, and his aggressive style helped Rickey Henderson to score the most runs of anyone to ever play Major League Baseball. Rickey Henderson tallied over 100 runs in a season thirteen times on his way to 2,295 runs scored, 49 more than Ty Cobb. His 2,190 walks have since been eclipsed by Barry Bonds, but one must remember that over 600 of Bonds walks were of the intentional variety. To deliberately put Rickey Henderson on first was the equivalent of giving up an extra-base hit with his stolen base capabilities.
In his first five seasons, Rickey Henderson swiped over 100 bases in a single campaign three times, including the all-time single season record of 130 in 1982. That total was a dozen more than Brock’s 118 in 1974. Rickey Henderson’s odd demeanor and unusual habits wound up making him a nomadic sort, as he would play for nine different teams, including four separate stints with the Athletics. He refers to himself in the third person, even going so far as to once call Padres’ General Manager Kevin Towers and leaving a message saying “This is Rickey, calling on behalf of Rickey.” Known to sometimes loaf in the field and on the base paths, when he wasn’t playing up to his best he heard it from the fans. Rickey Henderson may be the only person to ever contract frostbite in August in the United States; he fell asleep on an icepack!
Another unusual aspect of Rickey Henderson is that although he bats right-handed, he throws with his left. He became known for snatching at the ball as he caught it in the outfield as it fell into his glove; announcers dubbed this “cutting the pie”. For all of his peculiarities though, there has never been anyone close to as potent a lead-off hitter in baseball as Rickey Henderson. His 81 homers leading off the game for his team is almost twice as many as the next player on the list, and he once led off both ends of a twin bill with a home run. But it is the stolen bases that Rickey Henderson, who was a ten-time All-Star and AL MVP in 1990 with the A’s, will be remembered for.
The statistical facts of Rickey Henderson’s stolen bases are astounding. He is the leading base stealer before and after the age of thirty. Rickey Henderson once stole five bases in a game against Seattle and he garnered four in a game eighteen times. From 1980 through 1991, Rickey Henderson led the AL in stolen bases every year except for an injury plagued 1987 season. He led all of baseball in stolen bases six times and the AL a dozen. At the age of 39 in 1998, Rickey Henderson stole 66 bases for Oakland to lead the American League. His 33 post-season steals rank him one ahead of Kenny Lofton, who has more than over one hundred more plate appearances. When Rickey Henderson joined the Boston Red Sox in 2002, he had stolen thirteen more bases in the span from 1979 until 2001 than the entire Boston club had. Rickey Henderson naturally is the all-time leader in caught stealing, but his lifetime success rate of 81% is one of baseball’s best ever.
In the post-season was when Rickey Henderson proved his worth. He hit .339 in a trio of World Series, including wins over the Giants in 1989 with the A’s and with Toronto over the Phillies in 1993. Rickey Henderson ran absolutely roughshod over the Blue Jays in the 1989 AL Championship Series, hitting .400, drawing eight walks, and stealing eight bases. His 21 game-ending runs batted in are the third most of anyone since 1957. If Rickey Henderson stays retired he will have ended his twenty five years in baseball, a record for a non-pitcher, with 3,055 hits and a lifetime average of .279. After playing 44 games with the Dodgers in 2003, rather than leave the game for good, Rickey Henderson played with a couple of minor league teams from independent leagues. Eligible in 2008 for Hall of Fame consideration, he needn’t worry about election. Famed baseball statistician Bill James regards Rickey Henderson in this manner. “If you could split Rickey Henderson in two, you would have two Hall of Famers!”