Wednesday, June 24, 2009

30 Years of Rickey Henderson

I had actually forgotten about the significance of today, as it relates to the career of Rickey Henderson, until I saw a post by 30-Year Old Cardboard. It was on June 24, 1979, exactly 30 years ago today, that Rickey made his Major League debut with the Oakalnd A's.

While watching the A's game last year, they played footage of this game, and I was able to take some screenshots and include them in a post. They definitely aren't the best quality, but you'll get the general idea.

Not long after seeing the post by 30-Year-Old Cardboard, the Hall of Fame's weekly online newsletter, the Inside Pitch, arrived in my in-box, featuring an article on the anniversary. The article can be found online here, but I've also included the complete text below.

June 24, 1979: Rickey Henderson makes big league debut
By Craig Muder / National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

The signs were there right from the start, though few of the fans at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum that Sunday afternoon figured they were witnessing history.

Rickey Henderson was penciled into the lineup for his first Major League game that day. And by the end of the third inning, A's fans had seen just a glimpse of the talent and drive that took Henderson all the way to Cooperstown.

In that first game of a doubleheader against the Rangers, A's manager Jim Marshall installed the 20-year-old Henderson as his new leadoff hitter and left fielder. In his first at-bat against Texas left-hander John Henry Johnson, Henderson doubled to right. After advancing to third, Henderson was thrown out at the plate while trying to tag up on a fly ball by Jeff Newman.

But Henderson was far from finished. In the third inning, Henderson singled, then stole second off Rangers catcher Jim Sundberg, who won the fourth of his six straight Gold Gloves at the end of the 1979 season. For Henderson, it was the first of a Major League-record 1,406 stolen bases.

Henderson posted a .274 batting average with 33 steals and 49 runs scored in just 89 games in 1979 for an A's team that went 54-108. The next year, Henderson became just the third player in modern history to steal at least 100 bases in one year, joining Maury Wills and Lou Brock.

In his first 12 full big league seasons, Henderson led the American League in stolen bases 11 times -- falling short only in 1987 when injuries limited him to 95 games with the New York Yankees. He scored at least 100 runs in 10 of those seasons and in the 11th, 1981, he paced the AL in runs scored with 89 during that strike-shortened campaign.

Henderson ended his career in 2003 as the all-time leader in runs (2,295), walks (2,190) and stolen bases (1,406) -- and also leads all players with 2,129 unintentional free passes.

"He was the most dangerous player of our generation," said Tony La Russa, a former manager of Henderson's who now manages the St. Louis Cardinals. "That includes all the great sluggers and Hall of Famers. He was the most dangerous."

Henderson was elected to the Hall of Fame in January 2009 after receiving 94.8 percent of the votes on his first try on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot. He will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame on July 26 in Cooperstown along with fellow Class of 2009 members Joe Gordon and Jim Rice.


funksteady said...

Great memories MOS, time flies, I was there from the very beginning, following Rickey's career, it was just amazing to see him raise the standard of the game to a whole other level. Then you had every leadoff trying to be their team's Rickey, guys started stealing more, third base and all, sliding headfirst, but no other player could do it all the way he did. More than just a base-stealer, hit for AVG, even power, get on base more than anyone else, score the most runs, which is the number one goal for any leadoff guy, and was the best defensive left fielder in the game. Thanks again for sharing your passion.

ManOfSteal said...

Always great to hear from you! I was actually just thinking about you and your site a few days ago, as I saw that Garry Templeton was actually coaching the Long Beach Armada. The Armada are in the same league as the San Diego Surf Dawgs, who Rickey once played for.