The perfect leadoff hitter: Rickey Henderson headlines Hall induction
What does the perfect power hitter look like? Does he have
Perfection in baseball, as in life, is maddeningly elusive. It is found not so much in one player, but in many, across generations, and the memory of it is seen differently and vividly on an endless loop played in the minds of a million fans.
When it comes to envisioning the perfect leadoff hitter, though, there is no need for speculation or debate. Simply picture
Or do you picture him on the basepaths, one arm resting on his knee, the other hanging loose, fingers dancing back and forth in anticipation while he stretched his lead to dangerous and exciting lengths? This is the Henderson who would obliterate every stolen base record that ever mattered, and invent a few that didn't. The one who swiped 130 bases in a season and 1,406 in his career. The one who scored a major-league record 2,295 runs.
It is the magic and majesty of Henderson that, somehow, he managed to be both of these players. Choosing an all-time team in baseball is nearly impossible, but if you had to make out a lineup card for a single game with your life riding in the balance, the name of Rickey Nelson Henley Henderson would be at the top of it.
As he prepares for his induction into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, this is the Henderson we should be remembering, not the cartoonish version who bounced from team to team over the last several years of his career while referring to himself in the third person and leaving behind a trail of yes-he-really-did-that tales. To be sure, this will be the most eagerly anticipated induction speech Cooperstown has seen since
This is a man, after all, about whom fellow American League All-Star
If those sentiments reflected the conventional thinking at the time, it wasn't long before Henderson's greatness was being taken for granted. And while he did eventually join the ranks of mere mortals, that didn't mean he stopped being a game-changing dynamo. But he did stop being appreciated as he had in his earlier days even though he remained a force to be reckoned with into a fourth decade in the majors. He made the last of his 10 All-Star teams in 1991, at age 32, and while most players began slowing down at that age, Henderson went on to play 12 more seasons. And while he was past his prime, he remained arguably the best leadoff hitter in the game most of the rest of that decade.
The Blue Jays acquired Henderson on the day of the trade deadline in 1993 and he helped them to their second straight World Series title. He posted an OBP of .400 or better seven of the next eight years (his worst over that time was .376 at age 39, the same year he led the American League in stolen bases and walks). The next season, a 40-year-old Henderson batted .400 with six stolen bases for the Mets in their NLDS triumph over the Diamondbacks. By the time he finally retired -- it's probably more accurate to say, "by the time teams stopped asking him to play" -- he ranked fourth on the all-time games played list.
Henderson could also be dismissed as a hot dog, and though he has a sizable ego -- "I put fear into pitchers," he once told me and insists he could still play today, at age 50 -- it was not a put-on. "People think he was a hot dog -- so did I, until I played with him," Hall of Famer
With all due respect to fellow inductees