The only disappointing thing about Rickey Henderson being admitted to the Hall of Fame is the fact he’ll be going in alongside long-time Red Sox fan favorite Jim Rice. Don’t get me wrong, dear readers. I have absolutely nothing against Jim Rice, as a person or as a player; in fact, I would even say he deserves to be included in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.
Thing is: I feel sorry for him and the subsequent upstaging he’ll be forced to endure come July. I mean, Rickey Henderson is the “greatest of all-time”.
Okay, well, maybe he meant he was the greatest base-stealer of all-time. In any case, I think we all know how much swagger Henderson brings to any field, locker room, podium. The man has always been the cynosure of self-confidence, the quintessential self-promoter, the Barack Obama of baseball perhaps.
And that’s why I’m already salivating at the unscripted heroics of his forthcoming acceptance speech this summer.
Verily, I think we all have our favorite Rickey Henderson story. Whether it’s his persistent third person self-references, sliding into home plate after hitting a homerun or his penchant for talking to himself in the most supportive of ways like “Don’t worry, Rickey. You’re still the best”, I think we can all agree that his undying, unwavering, unparalleled belief in all-things Rickey Henderson made him the greatest lead-off hitter of all-time and an icon for baseball fans like myself.
I, too, have had the luxury of owning personal Rickey Henderson memories — memories that I will always hold dear to my heart. Henderson’s career started the same year my life did and I can’t ever remember not being mesmerized by his speed, his bat, his patience at the plate. For someone so fast, I never could get over how many pitches he was able to take in order to wear a pitcher down early. And though I had no affiliation to the teams with which Henderson played, I remember coveting his baseball cards and having the sudden need to check box scores of A’s (and later Yankees) games to see how many bases he’d stolen, how many homeruns he’d hit.
So when I finally had the chance to see Rickey Henderson play in person during the 2003 season while living in Los Angeles, I told my buddy before the home half of the first: “Wouldn’t it be something if Rickey led off with a homerun?”
And by golly he did it.
Watching him jog around the bases brought an indescribable chill up my spine and a few man-tears to my eye.
I said a few. Gimme a break. I love this friggin’ game.
But that wasn’t the end of my personal Henderson drama. Before a 2007 Saturday afternoon game at Wrigley pitting the Mets against the Cubs, I made it out to the left field wall for batting practice and was pleasantly surprised to see none other than Rickey himself shagging fly balls.
“Hey, Rickey, when ya gonna make another comeback?” I yelled from about 20 feet away.
“Hey, Rickey, you’re the greatest of all-time!”
“Hey, Rickey, you’re a first ballot Hall of Famer!”
After ten minutes of relentless hollers, Rickey finally acknowledged my existence with a simple yet earnestly eloquent: “Rickey fine!”
Indeed, Rickey fine.
So, so fine.
So don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.