Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rickey to enter Hall as an Oakland Athletic

Although he's always said that he wanted to wear an Oakland A's hat on his Hall of Fame plaque, I didn't want to believe it until it was officially announced. I still can't believe that Reggie entered as a Yankee! Here's a link to the Hall of Fame press release from Tuesday, when it was announced. The full text of the release is included below.

I've also included a short clip from from his press conference the day after being inducted.

NEW YORK — The baggy, cream-colored jersey draped over Rickey Henderson's shoulders, hiding the vintage physique that you could swear still fit right in on a Major League diamond.

This team, the Hall of Fame roster Henderson officially joined this week, could be considered Henderson's 10th. For a man who wore nine different big league uniforms --including his immortalized one, that of the Oakland Athletics, four times -- it is also his last.

"Wearing so many uniforms says that you played the game right," Henderson said. "A lot of teams were interested in you helping their ballclub. I remember a time that they were saying to go out and 'rent Rickey' for the playoffs. I was a money player. For a big game, they would want me out on the field."

The National Baseball Hall of Fame announced Tuesday that Henderson's plaque will feature the 'A' that Henderson wore in green and gold for parts of 14 of his big league seasons.

It is an appropriate fit: a Bay Area product who excelled in three sports at Oakland Technical High School, Henderson joined the A's in 1976, setting his course for the remarkable sequence of achievements that soon followed.

"It means a great deal," Henderson said. "It's my hometown, the city of Oakland, where I lived and grew up. My friends in the Bay Area get the opportunity of knowing that I went in as an Oakland A. When I think back on how I got drafted as a ballplayer, Charlie O. Finley was coming to the ballpark to see me play."

Finley, the eccentric Athletics owner who actually attended some of Henderson's amateur games in lieu of dispatching a scout. Some in the know were hesitant to draft Henderson because he batted right-handed and threw left-handed, an odd combination that rarely yielded big league success.

But Henderson was always good about rewriting the books. Playing four seasons in Oakland's farm system, Henderson developed the trademark crouch and dime-sized strike zone that made him such a tenacious presence on the diamond.

"I learned and developed how to get on the basepaths," Henderson said. "I was being patient at the plate. Once I learned how to get on the basepaths, my intention was to create some movement. I knew the pitcher was paying attention to me."

A perfect fit to Billy Martin's aggressive style of play in Oakland, Henderson became a standout with the A's, racking up league-leading numbers in the categories of runs scored and stolen bases -- career records he'd eventually bring back to the Bay, cementing his status as an unstoppable force heading toward Cooperstown.

"I always liked the challenge between pitchers and catchers," Henderson said. "A home-run hitter has to beat the pitcher. As a basestealer, I had to beat the pitcher and the catcher.

"I used to like to look at the face of the pitcher when you'd steal a base. I used to walk up to the catcher and tell them, 'If you don't give me a pitch to hit, I'm going to be on third base.'"

Henderson left Oakland for New York in a seven-player deal before the 1985 season, a four-plus-year stay that the stolen-base king said produced one of his biggest regrets.

Henderson lauded some of his teammates, like Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield, but still scratches his head at how those talented clubs -- with all of George Steinbrenner's bankroll to back them -- didn't achieve postseason success.

"Billy Martin believed in his heart that I was supposed to be a Yankee," Henderson said. "The thing that is a little disappointing is that when I was playing with the Yankees, we had such a great team. We just could never get over the hump."

Dispatched back to the A's midway through the 1989 season, Henderson led Oakland to a title in the earthquake-interrupted World Series, then went on to help the Toronto Blue Jays in similar fashion come 1993.

Henderson's hired-gun experience in Toronto yielded one of his personal favorite 'Rickey stories,' though it didn't come to fruition for years to come. With the Blue Jays, Henderson was a teammate of first baseman John Olerud, who manned first base while wearing a helmet -- a precaution taken after he suffered a brain aneurysm in college.

As the oft-repeated story goes, Henderson encountered Olerud with the New York Mets in 1999, remarking about how he had once played with a guy who also wore a helmet while playing first base. Olerud is supposed to have responded, "That was me." It is a remarkable story, but as both insist, not true.

"You'd hear it and hear it," Henderson said. "They'd come to me and ask, 'Is this true?' Then they'd go to John and ask, 'Is this true?' It's not true, but it sounds good."

There were other memories, like the day San Diego Padres owner John Moores escorted Henderson back to an empty stadium to dig up home plate after shattering Ty Cobb's record for runs scored. That plate is mounted in Henderson's home, to be passed down through his family.

Henderson has more to pass on. Hired by the Mets as a special instructor in 2006, Henderson sees glimpses of himself in speedster Jose Reyes, believing that Reyes could possibly steal 100 bases in his budding big league career.

Of course, Henderson had already accomplished it three times by the time he was Reyes' age. Reyes' high, to date, was 78 swipes in 2007, a mark Henderson nearly doubled with 130 in 1982. And true to Rickey form, Henderson still believes that there's a little more running left in his bones.

"I feel that he can go out and try to achieve some of the records that I had on the basepaths," Henderson said. "As I look at him running and stealing bases, I feel that I can go out and steal probably as many bases as Reyes steals."


Anonymous said...

Rickey was just hired by the A's for ' a "goodwill capacity", whatever that means.

PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- The A's have hired recent Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson in a goodwill capacity for the 2009 season, Lew Wolff, the team's owner said during the two days of owners' meetings that end here on Thursday.

"We'll have him working for us and that should be a nice thing," Wolff said.

ManOfSteal said...

I saw that earlier today, and was hoping to get something posted tonight. I'm glad that they finally worked something out! I guess this means he's no longer trying to make a comeback (but with Rickey, you just never know).

Anonymous said...

When are they going to retire #24 is my's long overdue!

funksteady said...

For me Rickey will always be an A's and more specifically I'll always remember him as number 35. That's how I first got to see him, and that's the number he was wearing when he had his astonishing 100, 130 and 108 stolen base seasons. I was always a Rickey fan so I followed him with all his teams but I was thrilled when he was back with the A's, where he belonged, and slightly disapointed he changed his number. But that's just my own personal thing.
I have to say I'm both thrilled and relieved he did stay true to the A's.
Rickey's the greatest!