Fleet of foot, sure, but that's only one aspect of new pinstriper Rickey Henderson. The rap sheet says he has a poor attitude and scores low in that all-important category called team play. "I don't think he played as hard as he could last year," says former Oakland teammate Dwayne Murphy.
Now Henderson is in New York, where the press magnifies the most trivial wrong and where the owner uses the daily papers to express his daily wrath. As another former teammate, Boston's Tony Armas, puts it, "He's gonna find out how to play the game. He's got to be serious."
Yankee manager Yogi Berra dismisses the jabs at Henderson, saying he'll judge for himself. "I don't hold with gossip about a player. He comes to us fresh," says Berra. Still, the 26-year-old Henderson should heed the advice of senior Yankee Willie Randolph, whom he supplants as the leadoff hitter: "You can't be thin-skinned and play on this team."
Henderson's assignment, should he choose to accept it, is to hunker down in centerfield, ignite the Yankee offense and use his Porsche Turbo acceleration. If anyone ever had license to speed in New York, it's Henderson.
April 15, 1985
When asked the difference between the Yankees and the A's, Henderson just giggles. "I'm going to be more selective stealing bases because of the guys hitting behind me. I want to get on base, steal and leave it to the boys. I can help."
Owner George Steinbrenner thinks so, too. "With Henderson and Randolph on base, [Don] Mattingly and [Dave] Winfield should see nothing but strikes," says Steinbrenner.
On paper, the Yankees are as set as they have been in years, but in truth, few of the regulars were in top shape on Opening Day. Henderson missed part of spring training with a sprained left ankle. Winfield was hospitalized with a staph infection after falling on his elbow. Mattingly was recovering from knee surgery. Outfielder Ken Griffey had a sore right knee. Things got so bad in the spring that DH Don Baylor had to play the outfield.
The pitchers are also a worry. The average age of the starters is 34. "If there's one guy who's key, it's [Ron] Guidry," says Berra. "He's someone we can count on to go 10 games over .500." Guidry, who was one game under .500 in '84 (10-11), has added some off-speed pitches to his repertoire. "The old adage is 'You always die with your best pitch.' So I have to go against what I've done for so many years and throw the changeup in situations where I feel in my heart it's time for a fastball, because the hitter thinks it's time for a fastball, too."
Randolph likes the Yankees' prospects. "This is the most balanced club I've ever played on in terms of speed and power," he says. "It's going to be fun." But he cautions, "I've seen too many great teams here fizzle because everyone was out for himself."