In our time, it would be difficult to find a player more exciting and dominant as Rickey Henderson. Seven of his mind-boggling 25 seasons were spent playing in New York. Today, we celebrate his birthday and the magical skills and thrills he gave to the city and all fans of baseball.
Take just one minute to peek at Rickey Henderson’s Baseball Reference page. Notice all that bold black type? Those are times when Henderson led his league or the major leagues in the various categories listed.
And just in case you don’t see anything remarkable about that, Rickey Henderson will explain and convince you to see the error of your ignorant ways. Because if he had been born a generation earlier, Muhammed Ali’s antics and claims to be the greatest would have been swamped by Henderson’s unabashed, yet tolerable, love for himself.
Like Ali though, Henderson backed everything up by what he did on the playing field during a career which culminated with his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009. His plaque, in part, aptly reads:
“Rickey Henderson used the ultimate combination of power and speed to break numerous major league baseball records during his career.”
But what solidified his place in baseball history was his love for the game.
“If my uniform doesn’t get dirty, I haven’t done anything in the baseball game,” Henderson was once quoted as saying.
It’s the middle part of that quote that deserves our attention more than anything. And apparently, you don’t play a grueling and grinding sport like baseball for a quarter-century unless you have a love for the game and the craft you have chosen to make a living.
From Baseball Almanac, Alan Greenberg, writing for The Hartford Courant in 1997 wrote about Henderson:
“Ask what time it is, and most people look at their watch. Rickey Henderson looks at his legs. If they are feeling good, he announces ‘It’s Rickey Time,’ and the New York Yankees clubhouse gives off good vibrations because he is their tuning fork. There are 24 time zones in the world, but if you’re trying to win a pennant, ‘Rickey Time,’ replete with brilliant base stealing and clutch hitting, is the best place to be, a zone all its own.”
A zone all its own, indeed.
Henderson played for the Yankees during their down years from 1985 through 1988. However, New York fans were treated to seeing him play in the prime of his own career. Once, he scored 146 runs for the team and stole 80 bases for the team, finishing third in the MVP voting.
His time with the Mets came much later in his career when he was in his forties, but he still managed to hit .315 and score 89 runs for the team.
Mr. Henderson, you could be right. You are the greatest. Happy Birthday.