Rickey Sprints into Baseball Hall of Fame
For the next few days people from all over the country, and maybe the world, including a bevy of sportswriters will be writing about their favorite Rickey Henderson moments either in stories or in his wild collection of memorable quotes. Henderson along with former Red Sox Jim Rice will be offically inducted today into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Now I will not be there, but you can bet I will as close to a television set as possible during the 2009 Induction Ceremonies to hear the speech that might either shock or amuse baseball for the rest of the year.
Everyone with in and outside of baseball are curious on how Rickey Henderson will refer to himself in his speech, and if he is going to introduce himself. Well, I actually do not think he will introduce himself, but will he pick a opponent like a catcher, or maybe another famous basestealer to do the honors for him today?
But even with the selection of Henderson earlier this year, there are a few things that have me still scratching my head about his selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The biggest surprise to me is the fact that he did not garner more than 94.8 percent of the vote. Now I did not think he was going to challenge Tom Seavers 98.8 percent, but thought he might hit the 96 plateau without a hitch. Could my idea of how well recieved he was in the MLB be a bit inflated, or do some of the baseball purist maybe see this as a time to punish him for his ‘third person” theatrics.
So why did some people not put him on their ballot? Didn’t this guy change the way we look at slap hitters and guys who put the ball down the line for drag bunts and infield hits and didn’t he usher in a new generation of basestealers in the MLB? Come on people, the guy who is the MLB career leader in runs scored and stolen bases by a huge margin is nothing more than a scrub to some BBWAA voters.
Maybe some of the voices are right, maybe we need to tweak this system a bit and weed out some of the naysayers who look more at off the field actions than on the highlights accomplished on the field. There is a difference in being a purist in your columns and heart, and maybe displaying a flaw like voting against a guy who deserves a spot based on your opinions of his career.
Is there any argument that Henderson because of his power and uncany ability to get on base ,could change a games complexity with a single hit or a walk? Do you think that he might be the model for the induction of speed demons in the lead-off spot and not buried down in the 7,8, or 9 slots in a lineup? And do you think that Henderson might have viewed himself like a cartoon character to actually not be bothered by the critics and naysayers who thought he was a destroyer of the game? People use defensive mechanisms for many things, maybe he was before his time in not letting drama and strife destroy himself or his career.
The answer to all three questions is a huge YES.
Henderson did change a pitchering staff’s mind when he was on base. It brought into the pitchers’ mind that he could steal a base on any pitch, even a pitch-out. It did not matter if it was a 100 mph Fastball, change-up, curve, it made no difference to Henderson, any pitch was a good pitch to steal a base. His power made you respect his plate discipline enough to not try and finesse a pitch up there, or you would be getting a fresh ball from the umpire. Henderson went to the plate 10,961 times in his career.
During his career from 1979 to 2003, Henderson had 3,055 hits, which in its own right should be a good consideration for the Hall of Fame. He hit 510 doubles and 66 triples. I think those numbers might have been a lot higher if he did not get more of a thrill in running and stealing bases on any pitcher that took the mound. I could see him pull up at first or second base just so he could play that cat and mouse game with a pitcher then steal the base on him and give him that grin from the bag. He might be one of the first base runners to actually try to use mind games to disturb a pitcher on the mound.
In his career he had 4,588 total bases. He stole a grand total of 1,406 bases, and only got caught 335 times during his career. That seems like a low mark to be caught stealing, but Henderson made the act of stealing a base into an art form during his career. Think of the totals he would have left with if he had been active in the MLB, even at his advanced age.
From 2000 on, he only appeared in over 100 games with one club. While he was with the San Diego Padres in 2000, he appeared in 123 and still stole 25 bases. But during his last year in the MLB, Henderson was mostly a bench player for the Los Angeles Dodgers and only made it into the game 30 times during the season. He did however steal 3 bases that year in his limited role. But have to remember, not just did he have a few gray hairs by then, but defenses were setting up for him knowing he was in the game to get into scoring position and maybe score the winning run for his team.
I truly feel that the arrogance of stealing a base, along with is knack for sliding around the tags is the reason players like current Tampa Bay Rays speed demons Carl Crawford owe their basestealing careers to Henderson. Before Henderson made it an offensive weapon to truly steal a base with gusto, Lou Brock was the only other base stealer to command as much attention when on base. But Henderson did something none of the other base stealers ever did, he tried to bait pitchers into balks and mis-throws to the plate based on his ability to steal and to take an edge off the team’s pitching game.
Henderson changed the lead-off position. Here was a guy who had 2,190 base on balls during his career, and could bring a new dimension to the game with four pitched balls. Every walk he was ever issued looked more like a doubler to him because he could steal a base and get into scoring position at any moment. Henderson also could hit the long ball. Lost in a lot of the translation into his base stealing is the fact he did hit 297 home runs in his career, mostly from the lead-off position. So as you can see, New York Met’s shortstop, Jose Reyes also owes a big round of applause to Henderson in making it fashionable to get dirty stealing bases in the MLB.
Now for why Henderson always talked about himself in the third-person. Some people have commented that it was a defense mechanism devised by someone for Henderson because it made his character on the field different than the man in the clubhouse after the game. It left him into a secondary world to rant, rave and just be “Rickey” while he wore the team’s colors. This might or might not be true, but if you really think about the image of being able to put your work suit on and take the punishments and the abuse while you are working, then shed those insults, opinions and wild lies when you toss them in the clothes hamper to be washed, it make a bit of sense.
Who among us would not relish a secondary personality or a persona that we could use at work and toss aside and forget the troubles and strife in a moments notice. This might not be the true reason for his third-person antics, but it does make good conversation for the next few months. But the antics and the stories concerning Henderson are many and both base in legend and in folly.
But one of the best ones I ever heard was from a Oakland area sports story that told the story about the Oakland A’s front office finding a financial mistake in their bookkeeping. It was showing that the team had a million dollars more than it was suppose to have in it’s coffers. After a series of check and double checks, it was concluded that they had only one conclusion to this error. A member of the Athletics management went down into the locker room and found Henderson and asked what he did with the $ 1 million dollar check the team had issued to him. Henderson remarked that he put the check under glass. Never cashed it, never even thought of the down the road consequences of the actions, just did what “Rickey” would do.
I have a story of my own about Henderson based in 1984. I was a newly drafted snot nosed kid who came out to see a friend, Scott Hemond who was catching for the Oakland A’s at the time. I was in the locker room after a game and saw Henderson right before he left for the night. He was dressed to the nines, and I strolled up and introduced myself as a friend of Hemond’s and just wanted to tell him what a joy it was to watch him play baseball.
He remarked how ” Rickey was happy he liked his personal style of play, but that Rickey did not like to associate with friends of catchers’.” It took me a second before I started to laugh and then remarked that was why I like “Ricky”, he was wihtout a doubt not predictable or even in the same league as the rest of us. I saw him a few hours later when we went out to dinner, and Henderson came over and finally shook my hand and sat for a few moments talking to Hemond and some other players’ at the table.
He finally got up and remarked to me, ” I hear you are fast?” I told him I could hold my own between the hash marks and on a 440 yard track. And then Henderson remarked, ” Guess you never tried to push the bases around.” I only remarked that I played baseball from about 6 years old to college, but was never a demon on the base paths like him. Henderson in perfect “Rickey” form just muttered, ” There is only one Rickey, and he is leaving the building.” I let out a huge belly laugh and pointed to him acknowledging his comment.
He was right, there is only one “Rickey.” No matter if you loved the way he played, or hated him for the flamboyant personality. The ability of this guy to get into a team’s head mentally made for a really exclusive career. Thank goodness he is not the only one getting inducted on that Summer day. After his speech we will all need time to collect ourselves and get serious again. I do not know who will introduce him at the podium, but maybe he should research his stolen bases and find the pitcher he stole the most bases off of in his career.
The moment that guy steps to the mic, I will be glued to the television set watching him. Not since Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr gave their speeches when inducted have I waited for such a moment to happen. Those two men gave memorable speeches for different reasons. But you know that the world, and the entire baseball community are awaiting the final appearance of “Rickey” in all his glory and gruff. It will be an historical event that you do not want to miss. Got to remember to TIVO that introduction.