Sunday, December 7, 2008


"Some people asked me did I think Rickey Henderson was a Hall of Famer. I told them, "If you could split him in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers"" -Bill James

There has never been a baseball player quite like Rickey Henderson. He is the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time, only partially due to the ha
voc he wrought on the basepaths. He hit more HR leading off a game (81) than anyone in history. Nobody else has scored more runs than Henderson (2,295). Only Barry Bonds has more career walks. Rickey has more steals than anyone is history, with a shocking total (1406) 50% higher than the #2 man, Lou Brock. The 468 SB that separates Henderson and Brock is a career stolen base total reached by only 42 players in MLB history.

Look at this card. Rickey's
confidence is practically leaping through the cardboard. The Yankee logo blends nicely with the interlocking NY on Rickey's jersey. Rickey played with a number of teams, including ending his unique career with the 2003 Dodgers, but I always think of him an an Oakland Athletic. Yet here is Rickey after his 2nd year with the Yankees. It seems Rickey was destined to be on the big stage in the bright lights on New York City.

Rickey's first two years in The Big Apple couldn't have gone much better, at least for him. Thanks to the back of this card, #228 in the set, we note that the 146 runs scored by Rickey in 1985 were the most in MLB since Ted Williams scored 150 in 1949. What I like ab
out Rickey's first two Yankee years was that he unleashed the previously unheard of 20/80 season. Prior to Rickey's time as a Yankee, no player had ever combined 20 HR and 70 SB in one season. Rickey blew by that with ease, with back-to-back 24/80 and 28/87 seasons. To this day, only Rickey and Eric Davis have reached the 20/80 plateau. I miss those days.

Look at the back of Rickey's card, and you will see how Donruss denotes league le
aders. At the top right of the stat portion of every card, there is the note that an asterisk "Denotes Led League." I feel bad for normal, run-of-the-mill players who must wonder where their asterisks are. Anyway, outside of leading the league in SB for every season depicted on this card (Rickey would lead the league for each of the first 12 full seasons of his career, except for Harold Reynolds in 1987 when Rickey only played 95 games...but still stole 41 bags), the thing that jumped out at me was that Rickey led the league in both steals and walks in 1982 & 1983. I thought this was unique, and in fact it is: the only other player in MLB history to achieve this double duty was Max Carey in 1918 & 1922.

Here's the best thing about Rickey: even if he was a horrible baseball player, I would still love him, for a few reasons. First, he always talks in the third person. Rickey this,
Rickey that. I love it! Second, there are just too many legendary stories about him. Whether true or untrue, I don't care; I still love the stories. Here are my two favorites:

1) Rickey saved the first $1 million dollar check he received from the A's, and framed it on his wall. Later in the season, the club's accounting department noticed a rather large discrepancy in the books. So they called Rickey to see where the check was. Rather than framing a copy, he had kept the original check. He never cashed it!

2) On the 2000 Mariners (or perhaps it was the 1999 Mets), Rickey noticed his first baseman wore a helmet while playing in the field. He went up to the helmeted one, who happened to be John Olerud, and said, "you know, I used to play with a guy in Toronto who also wore his helmet in the field." Olerud simply smiled and told Rickey, "that was me."

Rickey was born on Christmas Day 1958. Perhaps there has been no better Christmas present ever given to the world than Rickey Henderson.

On to the count...

The Set: 13 of 660 (2.0%)

HOF: 3 (+1 with Rickey, even though it won't be official until January 7)

Former Dodgers: 2 (none)

Future Dodgers: 3 (+1 with Rickey)


night owl said...

The Olerud story is my all-time favorite Rickey story.

Andy said...

When you think of Rickey, you always think of him as an Athletic or a Yankee, or perhaps a Met or Blue Jay. It's amazing how many other teams he ended playing for, though: Padres (twice), Angels, Mariners, Red Sox, and Dodgers.

Check out the Benny Santiago page on my 88 Topps Cards blog for an interesting piece of trivia about this.