Rickey Henderson

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Rickey Nelson Henley Henderson
(Man of Steal)
born Rickey Nelson Henley

Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009

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Biographical Information[edit]

Henderson with the Red Sox

"I always believed I was going to be safe." - Rickey Henderson, on his philosophy of stealing bases

". . . it wasn't until I saw Rickey that I understood what baseball was about. Rickey Henderson is a run, man!" - Mitchell Page

"If you could split him in half you'd have two Hall of Famers." -Bill James

Rickey Henderson felt that the public never properly appreciated him. He tended to talk himself up, and that did not go over well with the sportswriters. However, eventually, his career numbers became so impressive that everyone had to recognize his substantial accomplishments, and when time came to vote on his candidacy for the Hall of Fame, he was elected with overwhelming support on the first ballot. Shortly after his induction in Cooperstown in 2009, the Oakland Athletics retired his uniform number 24. Henderson is widely considered the greatest leadoff hitter of all time.

Henderson set several major league standards during his 25-season career; he is the all-time leader in runs (2295), stolen bases (1406), and times caught stealing (335). He was also the leader in walks at the time of his final major-league game (2190). He also holds the single-season records for steals (130), times caught stealing (42), and steal attempts (172), all in 1982. He hads hit more home runs to lead-off a game than anyone in history by a wide margin, with 81. Finally, he led the American League in steals a record 12 times.

He showed his promise during his very first season as a rookie in 1979 when he became the youngest player in major league history to steal three bases in one game, doing so on August 23rd. That record held for almost 40 years, as it was only broken by 19-year-old Juan Soto late in the 2018 season. Even before that, he stole 7 bases in one game for the Modesto A's on May 26, 1977; no player has matched that since. In spite of only making his debut in late June in 1979, Rickey stole 33 bases, putting him in the top ten in the AL for the first of a remarkable 22 times! He hit .274 in 89 games that season, claiming the leadoff slot for the A's that he would not relinquish until being traded the the New York Yankees after the 1984 season. He had his first season of over 100 runs and stole an even 100 bases in 1980 as the offensive leader of a surprisingly competitive Athletics team skippered Billy Martin.

Henderson with the Yankees

Although known primarily for his stolen bases and career totals in runs scored and walks, he also had some power: he was a decent home run hitter with 297 home runs, and he accumulated 510 doubles in his career.

He was the American League Most Valuable Player once, in 1990, and was also second once in the MVP voting and third once.

Statistician Bill James was once asked if he thought Rickey Henderson was a Hall of Famer. James' reply: "If you could split him in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers." He was alluding to the fact that his career numbers were so far ahead of most of his competition. Indeed, his contemporary Tim Raines, who was an outstanding leadoff hitter in his own right, paled in comparison to Rickey and had to wait an inordinately long time to gain election to the Hall of Fame as a result; had he played in any other era, his greatness would have been readily apparent but Rickey cast a long shadow.

Rickey Henderson played in four different decades. He broke into the American League when Carl Yastrzemski was still active in the league, and finished up in the National League when Miguel Cabrera was a rookie, but he still was not finished with playing baseball: he helped lead the 2005 San Diego Surf Dawgs of the Golden Baseball League to become the league's inaugural champions.

Later, he considered returning to the major leagues again. After the 2007 All-Star Game, he was appointed as first base coach by the New York Mets, following the firing of hitting coach Rick Down (Howard Johnson, who was the first base coach, was appointed hitting coach).

He is known for habitually speaking of himself in the third person.


There is a story that once a team called to ask why his signing bonus check - a very sizable one - hadn't been cashed. The team was concerned there was a problem. They called his agent - whose former job had been towel boy in the A's locker room - and were told that Henderson was waiting for the interest rates to go up before cashing it. Another has him taking his first million dollar check and framing it on the wall - until the team called to tell him he had to cash it first.

Another one: once he saw John Olerud playing first base with a batting helmet and said, "Hey, Rickey used to have a teammate with the Mets who played first with a helmet." Olerud then informed Rickey that they were teammates with the Mets. This story is widespread but false.[1]

Another Henderson story goes that he once missed a game in August with frostbite because he left an ice pack on his foot too long.

When he played for the Mets in 1999 and 2000, he wore #24. What is significant about that is that it was the number worn by the great Willie Mays when he played his two final seasons with the Mets, and while not officially retired, it had not been used since, except for a few games in 1990 when Kelvin Torve was issued the number, apparently because of an oversight. Mays said he was fine with a player of Rickey's accomplishments wearing his number but reminded folks that late owner Joan Payson had promised not to give the number to anyone after his retirement. Henderson had worn the number in Oakland, in tribute to Mays.

When Rickey first played for Manager Tony La Russa after being traded back to the A's in 1989, he was repeating "Rickey's a team player" in defense to local writers accusing him of being selfish. La Russa was happy to hear it and they began discussing signs. La Russa said Rickey didn't have to worry about signs, he had the green light. Rickey asked if anybody else had the green light, and La Russa said no. Rickey said he didn't want the green light because "Rickey's a team player". He and La Russa went through the signs which included a swipe of the arms which meant take off all other signs. In Henderson's fourth game, in the 5th inning Rickey singled to right field. The Toronto Blue Jays had a two-run lead and Jimmy Key on the mound. Key was death to baserunners, so La Russa ordered the third base coach to go through all the motions with an arm swipe at the end. Rickey stole the base anyway, so Tony assumed he had missed the sign. A bit latter Rickey singled to give the A's a four-run lead. David Wells entered the game, and like Key he was death to baserunners. Again, the third base coach went through the motions and swiped his arms. Once again, the Man of Steal robbed second. La Russa was angry now. "Hey Rickey, all that stuff about being a team player, what gives?" Rickey looked at La Russa as if he had no idea what he was talking about. "We gave you a sign, did you not see it?" "Yeah, I saw it. You said if you swipe the arm, that means take off. And so Rickey took off." [2]

Once, in a game against the Baltimore Orioles, Rickey -Who was on first as usual- made a peace sign to third baseman Floyd Rayford. Rayford didn't know what it meant, because it wasn't a peace sign, it was the number two. Two pitches later Rickey was standing next to Rayford on third base. [3]

Famous Teammates[edit]


His main teammates included, with the Oakland A's Mark McGwire (3283), Dwayne Murphy (3236), Jose Canseco (2369), Carney Lansford (2323), Dennis Eckersley (2188), Tony Armas (1668) and Mike Heath (1250). In New York, one teammate was Don Mattingly, who was lionized by Yankee fans, as he would be by Henderson himself, in short order. [4] In 1986, when Mattingly hit .352 with 31 homers and 113 RBI and finished second in the MVP voting, Bill James asked why Mattingly had only driven in 113 runs when he had Rickey Henderson batting leadoff on the team and scoring 130 runs.

Based on the similarity scores method, the most similar player is Craig Biggio, with a similarity score of only 721.

Henderson set records with one or more home runs and one or more stolen bases in each of 25 consecutive years.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 10-time AL All-Star (1980, 1982-1988, 1990 & 1991)
  • AL MVP: (1990)
  • 1989 ALCS MVP
  • AL Gold Glove Winner (1981)
  • 3-time AL Silver Slugger Award Winner (1981, 1985 & 1990)
  • 1999 NL Comeback Player of the Year Award
  • AL On-Base Percentage Leader (1990)
  • AL OPS Leader (1990)
  • 5-time AL Runs Scored Leader: (1981, 1985, 1986, 1989 & 1990)
  • AL Hits Leader (1981)
  • 4-time AL Bases on Balls Leader: (1982, 1983, 1989 & 1998)
  • 12-time AL Stolen Bases Leader: (1980-1986, 1988-1991 & 1998)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 4 (1985, 1986, 1990 & 1993)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 13 (1980, 1982-1986, 1988-1991, 1993, 1996 & 1998)
  • 50 Stolen Bases Seasons: 14 (1980-1986, 1988-1991, 1993, 1995 & 1998)
  • 100 Stolen Bases Seasons: 3 (1980, 1982 & 1983)
  • Won two World Series with the Oakland Athletics (1989) and the Toronto Blue Jays (1993)
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 2009

1989 1990 1991
Robin Yount Rickey Henderson Cal Ripken, Jr

Records Held[edit]

  • Runs, career, 2295
  • Runs, right handed batter, career, 2295
  • Stolen bases, career, 1406
  • Stolen bases, season, 130, 1982
  • Stolen base attempts, career, 1731
  • Stolen base attempts, season, 172, 1982
  • Times caught stealing, career, 325
  • Times caught stealing, season, 42, 1982
  • Walks, right handed batter, career, 2190
  • Home runs to lead off the game, career, 81


  1. [1]
  2. The Baseball 100
  3. The Baseball 100
  4. Rick Sorci: "Baseball Profile: Outfielder Rickey Henderson", Baseball Digest, April 1994, p. 56. [2] (See 'Player I have learned the most from.' )

Further Reading[edit]

  • David Adler: "Rickey's 61!? Here are 12 fun facts for his birthday", mlb.com, December 25, 2019. [3]
  • Howard Bryant: Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original, HarperCollins, New York, NY, 2022. ISBN 9780358047315
  • Kevin T. Czerwinski: "The night Rickey ran wild for Modesto: Henderson set California League record with seven stolen bases", MiLB.com, October 31, 2007. [4]
  • Thomas Harrigan: "Rickey's patience was an underappreciated skill", mlb.com, April 24, 2020. [5]
  • Rickey Henderson (as told to George Vass): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, October 1992, pp. 49-50. [6]
  • Chris Landers: "Of course Rickey Henderson led off with a hit and stole a base in his first MLB game", "Cut4", mlb.com, June 24, 2018. [7]
  • Manny Randhawa: "Rickey: The ultimate Christmas gift", mlb.com, December 24, 2020. [8]
  • Rick Sorci: "Baseball Profile: Outfielder Rickey Henderson", Baseball Digest, April 1994, p. 56. [9]

Related Sites[edit]