Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rickey and the Hall

I am coming out of my offseason seclusion to write a little about Rickey Henderson. The first baseball season I remember is 1981, although I have some vague memories of a pack of 1980 baseball cards. Anyway, my formative baseball years were the 1980's and my favorite player (non-Cardinals division) was Rickey Henderson.

I can't really explain my fascination with Rickey, but I think it had something to do with an SI article that came out during the summer of 1982, when he was chasing the all-time single season stolen base record. I read that article and Rickey became my favorite.

Despite his sometimes clownish public persona, Rickey was a pretty good player to have as a favorite. He dominated the game with his speed, his patience at the plate and his power. He reached the 3,000 hit plateau, scored more runs than any player in history and drew more walks than any player in history not named Barry Bonds.

He is eligible this year for the Hall of Fame for the first time and he is a no-doubter*.

*His acceptance speech should be one of the greatest moments in television history. The guy has lived his whole life just to get up on that stage and tell everyone how great he is. It should be pure entertainment, unintentional comedy at its greatest.

My favorite statistic in Rickey's career is the line he put up during the 1989 playoffs. The Yankees had traded him back to Oakland during the season and he put up spectacular numbers in leading them to the title. He won the ALCS MVP and he should have won the World Series MVP (although Dave Stewart, who won, was outstanding in his two starts). Here is his combined stat line for the two series:

.441/.568/.941 3 HR 8 RBI 11 SB 12 R 9 BB

He did all of that in 9 games and 34 at bats. In addition, he hit three triples and two doubles. That's 8 extra base hits in 9 games! There was no way to stop him. Throw him a strike and he was going to pummel it; walk him and he was going to steal second and maybe third. He was absolutely on fire.

It didn't end there, either. His best complete regular season was in 1990, when he won the AL MVP with a .325/.439/.577 line over the complete season (he also stole 65 bases and hit 28 home runs).

Rickey was an amazing player and a unique player. His combination of patience, power and speed has been unparalleled in baseball history and we are unlikely to see another player with his skillset. I look forward to seeing lots of Rickey highlights this summer in the build up to the Hall of Fame ceremony.