A blur from the start, Henderson set to enter Hall

  • Follow Baseball

From the get-go, Rickey Henderson was in a hurry.

Born in the back seat of a '57 Chevy while his mom and dad rushed to the hospital, he came out blazing.

Fingers twitching inside those neon-green batting gloves, he'd lock his eyes like lasers on the next base and whoosh! Blew past the record for steals, pulled up the bag itself and proclaimed himself the "greatest of all time."

Set the mark for runs scored, too, sprinting low and diving headfirst. A blur, he was.

He turned 50 on Christmas Day. "Rickey could still play," he probably cackled to himself. Maybe he could.

Meantime, the Hall of Fame awaits. He's all but certain to streak in Monday when voting results from the Baseball Writers' Association of America are announced.

"He should get 98 percent, at least," said Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley, who closed many of the games Henderson helped win for Oakland. "He's the greatest player I ever played with, and I played 24 years."

Henderson already has a foot in Cooperstown, sort of. The Hall has 16 items documenting his career, including spikes, caps, balls and a pair of sunglasses.

Oh, and the stories. Standing naked in front of the clubhouse mirror, repeating over and over "Rickey's the best." He always referred to himself in the third person, that was his thing.

Doubled in his first big league at-bat in 1979, singled and stole second the next time up. He left in fitting fashion -- his last step in a major league game came when he touched home plate for the Dodgers in 2003.

Henderson kicked around the low minors the next two years. He kept hoping for another try, all the while enjoying the pure pleasure of playing the game and sharing his baseball knowledge with players less than half his age.

He never really announced his retirement, but realized by 2007 that he was done.

"I'm through, really," he said while watching a game in San Francisco. "It's just one of those things. I thank the good Lord I played as long as I played and came out of it healthy. I took a lot of pounding."

Sitting in the stands that day, by the way, he caught a foul ball.

Born to run, Henderson once stole 20 bases in a high school doubleheader. He later swiped seven in a Class A game.

He left the majors with 1,406 steals -- 50 percent more than Lou Brock, who's in second place -- and scored 2,295 runs. He also led in walks until teams became afraid to pitch to Barry Bonds.

Got his 3,000th hit on the day Tony Gwynn played his final game. Wanted to sit, out of respect to his revered teammate.

A 10-time All-Star, the AL MVP in 1990. A career on-base percentage of .401, he once reached safely in the first inning of 15 consecutive games.

Boy, Henderson made pitchers jittery. Crouching so low in the batter's box, it looked as if his elbows were below his knees, leaving no strike zone at all.

Once he got on base, look out.

"He didn't distract. He destroyed the confidence of pitchers," said Steve Palermo, who became an AL umpire in 1977, two years before Henderson's debut.

Former second baseman Steve Sax played with Henderson on the New York Yankees, then was playing against him in 1991 at Oakland when Rickey stole No. 939 to break Brock's record. Henderson made a headfirst dive into third base, yanked the bag out of the ground and held it over his head.

With Brock in attendance, Henderson told the crowd: "Lou Brock was a symbol of great base stealing, but today I am the greatest of all time."

Standing in the middle of the infield, Sax laughed.

"It was funny," he said, "but Rickey was right."


Search Augusta jobs