Rickey Henderson ranks among one of the greatest to ever step on the field. He’s a Hall of Famer because he was one of the greatest leadoff hitters and base stealers of all time. But, man, he was also just a lot of fun to watch.
Like no speedster before or since, Henderson could take over a game, disrupting pitchers, manufacturing runs by turning singles into doubles and doubles into triples. He also hit for power, with 297 home runs in his 25-year career. You never knew what Henderson might do in a game. You just knew it would be impressive.
Henderson also loved baseball and backed up his words with deeds. Henderson once said: “If my uniform doesn’t get dirty, I haven’t done anything in the baseball game.” Every sport needs a player like Rickey Henderson.
Rickey Henderson’s Early Life
Rickey Nelson Henley Henderson was born Christmas day in Chicago in the backseat of the family Oldsmobile on the way to hospital. His mother moved the family to Oakland, California, when Henderson was seven years old after his father left the family.
Henderson learned to bat right handed, even though he threw left-handed. He starred in baseball, basketball and football in high school. Although he loved football, he let his mother choose what sport he should pursue after high school. She felt baseball was better for him.
The Oakland Athletics selected Henderson in the 1976 draft. In his first season in the minors, he hit .336 for the Boise A’s in the Northwest League. In his second year with the Modesto A’s, he hit .345 and stole 95 bases in 134 games.
In 1979, Henderson started the season with the Ogden A’s of the Pacific Coast League before getting called up to the big club, where he made his debut on June 24, 1979. He stayed in the big leagues until his retirement in 2003.
Rickey Henderson’s MLB Career
Henderson’s exploits in Major League Baseball are the stuff of legend. And he did not wait long to make an impression.
In 1979, in just 89 games, he stole 33 bases, providing a sneak peak of the future. In his first full season in 1980, Henderson stole 100 bases, breaking the American League record of 96 set by Ty Cobb in 1915. In 1982, he set the single-season record for all of baseball, stealing 130 bases, breaking the record set by Lou Brock.
Henderson went on to steal at least 50 bases in 14 seasons, and in 1992 he stole 48. He led the league in steals 12 times in his career, an MLB record. He stole 66 bases in 1998 at the age of 39. He also led the league in runs scored five times. He ended up retiring with the career record in both categories – 1406 stolen bases and 2,295 runs scored.
To put that in perspective, Brock is second place in steals, with 938. And Henderson, Cobb and Barry Bonds are the only three players with more than 2,200 runs scored. Rickey Henderson is essentially the Babe Ruth of steals and runs scored.
But he hit home runs, too. He holds the record for leading off a game with a home run at 81.
When he passed Brock’s record for steals on May 1, 1991, he did it by stealing third base against the New York Yankees.
Henderson also played on two World Championship teams, the 1989 Oakland Athletics and the 1993 Toronto Blue Jays. He was one of the players who scored on Joe Carter’s famous, series-ending home run in Game 6.
Henderson also made 10 All-Star teams, and earned a Most Valuable Player Award in 1990. While most associated with the A’s, a team he played for in four separate stints, Henderson also played for the Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox.
Playing As Long As Possible
Henderson kept playing into his late 40s. His last at-bat in the majors came on Sept. 19, 2003, as a Los Angeles Dodger. He was hit by a pitch and ended up scoring a run. However, he kept playing independent baseball and as late as 2007 said he still could play at the major league level. But that at-bat in 2003 ended up being his last in MLB.
In 2009, he went into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. In typical Henderson style, he told reporters he still could play. He was 50 years old. That makes sense, though, given Henderson’s love for the game. Back in 1999, Henderson told the New York Post: “I just like to play the game, to have fun. When it’s not fun anymore is when I’ll get out.”
Apparently for Rickey Henderson, it never stopped being fun.