I adore you Rickey Henderson.
Rickey was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this past weekend. Before you non-sports people click off, read a little of the man that always talked in the third person about himself and loves the game so much, he was playing for a funky little non-MLB sanctioned team as recently as two years ago when most players are retired and golfing with friends.
Rickey is baseball’s all time base stealer. He grew up on the poor side of Oakland. He was born on Christmas Day in 1958. He played twice for my beloved Padres, but that isn’t why I adore Henderson. I love him because he loves the game of baseball as much or more than I do. It’s not the money, its the game for Rickey. From the U-T writeup on his wonderful, moving, made-me-cry-like-a-baby, HOF speech:
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Giving credit where it’s overdue and probably unprecedented, Rickey Henderson entered the Hall of Fame by paying tribute to glazed doughnuts and hot chocolate, to 25-cent incentive bonuses and to the donkey Charlie Finley made an Oakland mascot.
And somehow, strangely enough, it all worked.
Baseball’s supreme speed demon, the game’s “most misunderstood player” in the estimation of former teammate Dave Stewart, consciously slowed his runaway tongue yesterday to deliver a curious, clever and surprisingly crafted induction speech.
No misprint. No kidding. Yes, that Rickey Henderson.
Only a few days after comparing speechmaking to “putting a tie too tight around my neck,” Henderson took his place at the lectern before thousands of spectators and 49 returning Hall of Famers and steadfastly refused to choke.
His free-form 14-minute address recounted how a youth coach had convinced him to get out of bed to play baseball by appearing at his door with doughnuts and hot chocolate; how a high school counselor had bribed him to stick with the sport; and how Reggie Jackson had haughtily withheld his autograph when Henderson was a young fan growing up in Oakland.
Maybe you had to be there to appreciate the timing, but a lot of the people who were there were howling.
His speech made me laugh and it made me cry. Rickey is the kind of person that few take the time to understand. He is an African-American that talks too fast, and like I said..always referred to himself in the third person. People who didn’t ‘get’ Rickey called him egotistical and self-promoting.
Yeah, he was a little self-promoting, but I don’t care…he was never really appreciated for what he could do on a baseball field, how patient he was in the batter’s box. His deft skill at stealing a base off any pitcher he faced. From the UT article again:
Sometimes accused of selfishness and habitually guilty of self-indulgent showmanship during his playing career, Henderson approached his induction speech with the same care he showed in studying pitchers’ pickoff moves. He rehearsed, revised and refined his address during two weeks as a celebrity student in the speech classes of Earl Robinson at Oakland’s Laney College.
He was determined to make a statement that would not become garbled by Rickeyspeak. He showed, by words and deeds, how deeply he cares and how profoundly he wants to please.
No ballplayer has been better at irritating opposing teams and their fans. With his stylized snap-catches and his choreographed walk/home run trots, Henderson’s conduct seemed calculated to infuriate; so much so that even his teammates advised him to throttle back a bit.
But Henderson always saw himself as a performer, not just an athlete. Excesses aside, he was electric. He was so gifted a running back, Stewart said, that Henderson might have been inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame had he picked that career path.
The dominant dream of Henderson’s youth was to play for the Oakland Raiders, but he took heed of his mother’s fear of injury and the financial inducements of Mrs. Tommie Wilkerson, a counselor at Oakland Technical High School who was determined that her school have enough players to field a team.
“She would pay me a quarter every time I would get a hit, when I would score or stole a base,” Henderson said. “After my first 10 games, I had 30 hits, 25 runs scored and 33 steals. Not bad money for a kid.”
Later, in a post-induction press conference, Henderson said the payments lasted about two years. Good thing, too. Had Mrs. Wilkerson been obligated to honor the same terms throughout Henderson’s major-league career, she would have owed him $1,689 for his 3,055 hits, 2,295 runs scored and 1,406 stolen bases.
“When you think of me,” Rickey Henderson said, “I would like you to remember that kid from the inner city that played the game with all of his heart and never took the game for granted.
“My journey as a player is complete,” he said. “I am now in the class of the greatest players of all time. And at this moment, I am very, very humble.”
And he was humble Sunday, at exactly the right time in his career. Bless you Rickey, you gave me wonderful memories of baseball games past, of afternoons spent watching and waiting for you to steal that base and fluster the shit out of whatever opposing pitcher was on the mound.
I remember vividly hollering with my friends as you came to bat, Ricky Gets On!!!! And seeing you wink and nod at us before you stepped into the batter’s box.. knowing full well that you would find a way to get on base and then… steal one.
Rickey played for the Padres at the end of his professional career. No other team would give him a chance to set that all-time steals record.
I am forever grateful to the Padres for that.