I'm on a baseball kick…it's true. Even more true…I like stats and I love comparing them. I had a conversation over the weekend about who I thought was the "best ballplayer" I had ever seen. Now granted…I started watching baseball in 1981, but still, the choice was an easy one.
Here's the thing about Rickey that is the most fun to point out…people HATED him.
He was arrogant, self-centered and flashy. He was the first player that I remember to play wearing an earring, Oakleys AND a Jheri-curl…all at the SAME TIME!
Rickey's Hall of Fame credentials are unmatched when it comes to current players that are eligible for the Hall, but have yet to get in. Even better…he hasn't OFFICIALLY retired! Yet…Henderson stands to be the first player elected to the Hall WITHOUT having retired. Sure, some players didn't retire and made it in due to death (I'm looking your way Roberto Clemente)…but never (that I know of) has someone who hasn't retired been selected.
Statistician Bill James was asked if he thought Henderson was a Hall of Famer…his famous reply was "if you could split him in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers." As a baseball fan and memorabilia collector…that makes my lone run-in with Rickey all the appropriate. I was waiting for the Yankees bus to show up outside the Pfister in Milwaukee when, long before the bus showed up, Rickey showed up in a taxi. On his left arm was a white girl…on the right, a black girl.
Apparently Rickey found a way to make himself two Hall of Famers…at least for one night.
Another GREAT Henderson story comes from one of his FOUR stints with the Oakland A's. Team bookkeepers could not account for a ONE MILLION DOLLAR discrepancy in their finances. Eventually, this was traced to Rickey…he had a check for one million buckos framed and hanging on his wall.
Let's look into the stats. Sure, Rickey was an All-Star in ten of his first twelve seasons, the MVP of the 1990 season (he SHOULD have been the MVP in 1981 as well) and the career leader in runs and steals…but the guy was more of a stud than even those stats imply.
Here's a gem. On July 29, 1989, Henderson stole FIVE bases off of Randy Johnson. This ended up being Rickey's career high (Henderson had eighteen FOUR steal games during his career), and one shy of the single-game steal record. Add to that…he was 0-0 in the game with four walks. By the way, Rickey used to hold the record for most walks in a career too…that was until the world decided to stop pitching to Barry Bonds.
In 2002, Henderson suited up for his EIGHTH team (he played for nine), the Boston Red Sox. Incredibly, from 1979-2001, Rickey Henderson had stolen more bases than the Red Sox had managed over the same time span: 1,395 steals for Rickey, 1,382 for the Boston franchise. Not surprisingly, Henderson is one of two players to have stolen bases in four separate decades, along with Ted Williams. Strangely, Williams only had 24 stolen bases in his entire career.
In 1982, Rickey swiped 130 bases…good for the most in a season. That season he had more steals that EIGHT American League teams did as a team! Currently, Kenny Lofton is the active leader for stolen bases…a mere 800 behind Henderson. Lou Brock, the former record holder for steals in a career…is 500 behind Rickey.
Steals aside…Henderson also had 81 lead-off home runs. Think about that for a second…27% of Rickey's home runs led off a game. His career total of 297 is more than some notable Hall of Fame outfielders (Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Hack Wilson, Robin Yount and Kirby Puckett). His 3055 ranks 20 all-time. The only three players with more hits that aren't in Cooperstown…Pete Rose, Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn.
I'll stop now, but suffice it to say…Rickey SHOULD garner the highest percentage of votes since George Brett and Nolan Ryan in 1999.