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What Is RICKEY HENDERSON Doing in NEWARK?
Tom Verducci
June 23, 2003
The greatest leadoff hitter of all time is beating the bushes, trying to get back to the majors—and still leaving 'em laughing at every stop
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June 23, 2003

What Is Rickey Henderson Doing In Newark?

The greatest leadoff hitter of all time is beating the bushes, trying to get back to the majors—and still leaving 'em laughing at every stop

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Rickey's Rankings on Alltime Lists

1. Runs: First (2,288)
2. Walks: First (2,179)
3. Stolen Bases: First (1,403)
4. Leadoff Home Runs: First (80)
5. Times on Base: Third (5,316)
6. Games: Fourth (3,051)

Baseball is designed to be an egalitarian sort of game in which one player among the 18 is not supposed to dominate. Basketball and football can stop the proceedings and design a play to put the ball in the hands of a chosen player. A starting pitcher, who begins the action in a game, takes four days off for every one he works. Yet in the past quarter century Henderson and Barry Bonds have come closest to dominating a baseball game the way Michael Jordan could a basketball game.

"If you're one run down, there's nobody you'd ever rather have up at the plate than Rickey," says Mariners coach Rene Lachemann, a former Oakland coach. "You didn't want to walk him, because that was a double—he'd steal second—but if you didn't throw it over the plate, he wouldn't swing. And if you did throw it over the plate, he could knock it out of the park."

There was one time....

Henderson was taking a lead off first base when he held up two fingers toward Baltimore Orioles third baseman Floyd Rayford. Rayford was perplexed...that is, until Rickey was standing next to him two stolen bases later.

And another time....

In the 1989 World Series, during which the A's swept the San Francisco Giants, Henderson reached base 11 times in the four games and stole three bases. Giants catcher Terry Kennedy grew so weary of seeing Rickey at first base that he grumbled, "Just go ahead and steal the base!"

With his showman's style—he invented the snatch catch and the slo-mo home run trot—Henderson was hated as an opponent, beloved as a teammate.

"One of my favorite teammates of all time," Brian Johnson says. "I grew up in Oakland, and he was an icon to me. When I was in San Diego, I lockered next to him, and my biggest fear was that he was a bad guy. It was a breath of fresh air to find out he was the nicest guy, a genuine good guy and a great teammate."

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