When we talk about the best hitters or best pitchers in the history of baseball, there’s always a debate. But when it comes to the best base stealer in baseball history, there’s no debate, it’s Rickey Henderson. In fact, Rickey said it himself in 1991 when he broke Lou Brock’s record to become baseball’s all-time stolen base king.
“Lou Brock was the symbol of great base stealing. But today, I’m the greatest of all time.”
This quote is the embodiment of who Rickey was and what Rickey did over the course of 25 seasons in the big leagues. He was brash, cocky, and arrogant, which understandably, turned some people off. But the truth is that Henderson earned the right to be as cocky as he was. As a base stealer, no one was in the same class as him, and it’s hard to imagine any player dominating the base paths the way he did ever again.
Rickey, as he often referred to himself, owns a host of all-time records. In addition to the most stolen bases of all time with 1,406, Henderson is the all-time leader in runs scored (2,295), home runs to lead off a game (81), most unintentional walks (2,129), and most consecutive seasons with at least one home run (25). He also holds the single-season stolen base record with 130, set during the 1982 season. Henderson was also a 10-time all-star, two-time World Series champion, and has one MVP and one Gold Glove on his mantle as well.
But there was a lot more to Rickey than an arrogant player who would literally run circles around every team he faced. He was also a wild and crazy character who played the game hard, played the game to win, and wanted to enjoy every aspect of being a major league player, both on and off the field. Why else would he have played in the majors for 25 seasons with nine different teams, including four separate stints with the Oakland A’s?
“If my uniform doesn’t get dirty, I haven’t done anything in the baseball game.”
There are countless stories about Henderson’s 25 years in the majors that are equal parts entertaining and head-scratching. Some portray a player who’s full of himself, some portray a player who lives in his own world, and some are stories that could only be about Rickey, a man who often spoke about himself in the third person.
For instance, Rickey once took a $1 million bonus he received from the A’s and framed it in his house instead of cashing it. This information was only learned after the team launched an investigation into why their budget was $1 million off. There was a similar incident when Henderson declined to cash a six-figure bonus check from the Yankees. When a lowly club official named Brian Cashman called to ask why the check hadn’t been cashed, Rickey said he was “waiting for the money market rates to go up.”
There was one instance when he was with the Mets in which Rickey took a stretched limo from the team hotel during a road series in Cincinnati to the ballpark. Meanwhile, several of his teammates walked to the stadium, as it was less than a mile from the hotel.
Finally, there were rumors of Rickey talking to himself on the field. One of his former teammates in Seattle testifies that after a strikeout, Rickey walked back to the dugout, saying: “Don’t worry, Rickey, you’re still the best.” When a reporter asked Rickey is he talks to himself, Rickey denied it, explaining: “I just remind myself of what I’m trying to do. You know, I never answer myself so how can I be talking to myself?”
The stories about Rickey’s oddities and self-centeredness could continue. But so could the accolades about the kind of player he was. Yes, all the quirky stories and Rickey’s propensity for speaking in the third person are memorable. But one should not forget what a dominant figure he was on the field and all the running he did over the course of 25 major league seasons.