A daily accumulation of history and present as I follow the 2011 year through the baseball season and reflect on the glories and disappointments of the greatest game on Earth.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Rickey Henderson

In 1979, Rickey Henderson came to the big leagues and despite a limited batting average of .274 and only a half season of at bats, he still stole 33 bases for that year. To put this into perspective, had he played in the National League, he would have made it to #12 on the leader board that year. In the American League, he tied for #7 despite being far behind Willie Wilson's lead of 83 thefts. Three full seasons later, he passed such notorious base robbers as Ty Cobb, Maury Wills, and Lou Brock's coveted 1974 record of 118 stolen bases in a season.
Had it not been for a pedestrian batting average and a cocaine habit, perhaps Vince Coleman could have caught the record. He did show promise in his first 3 seasons before imploding. Nevertheless, Rickey was never seriously challenged for the all time single season record.
Roughly 12 years into his career, on May 1st 1991, Rickey Henderson heaved second base into the air and declared his supremacy to the world. As Shaq's model at speaking in the first person, Rickey was all ego and all dedication to baseball. He was well on his way to becoming the greatest leadoff hitter in history and at the same point, he was well on his way to sticking around the game too long. Maybe it was to set the all time runs record. Maybe it was to accumulate 1406 stolen bases and to be that far above anyone else who could dare to surpass his record since let's be honest - nobody in today's game could keep up their current pace for 20 years and surpass him. Maybe it was because he wasn't talented enough to do anything else.
Maybe he just loved the game that much.
Whatever it was, Rickey was a hell of a player. From 1979-2003, he played for the Oakland A's, the Yankees, the Blue Jays, the Padres, the Angels, and eventually even made it back to the Big Apple to play for the Mets.
When you played his card in APBA, his numbers were sick. This was a man who could make a single into a triple. He did his 297 home runs including 2 seasons with 28 round trippers. There were 4 total seasons where he was over 20 home runs for the year when the number actually meant something.
He had an OBP that was incredible because of his plate discipline. Had it not been for Barry Bonds' cheating and ability to be hated, Rickey would have the all time walks record as well, but as homerun records go, tis better to walk Bonds than to let him pass the Babe and Hammerin' Hank.
So yeah... today or any annual day after this is the day to raise a glass and toast Rickey.
He was a great baseball star and the Hall of Fame knew it and he knew it, too.
But that's ok. Not everyone can steal that many bases in a year or a career.

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