We all say or do things that we wish we could take back (one of the first things I wish I could erase was going to see “The 40 Year Old Virgin” with my mother-in-law (hey, before you slam me for that, the movie was a New York Times Critics’ Pick selection)). I would like to think that Rickey Henderson wishes he never uttered the line “But today, I am now the greatest of all time” after swiping his 939th stolen base to surpass Lou Brock as baseball’s most prolific basestealer, especially since he was ultimately upstaged that same day by Nolan Ryan’s 7th career no-hitter (Henderson probably also regrets heading to the clubhouse with Bonilla to play cards while the Mets lost an elimination playoff game in 1999). I think Henderson’s statement could be taken as fact if he had inserted “leadoff hitter” immediately after “greatest.”
Henderson set the standard by which all other leadoff hitters will be judged. He exhibited an unmatched mix of speed, plate discipline and power (being able to catch all the Mets’ games on TV does have some privileges, as I get to watch (i) Johan orchestrate his symphony of deception (I think I will trademark that phrase) every fifth game; (ii) a great, albeit under-performing, offensive line-up and (iii) three of the best leadoff men in baseball quite a bit as they reside in the NL East: Hanley Ramirez (who may end up being the number one fantasy pick next year in quite a few drafts), Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins). Henderson’s career numbers are incredible: 3055 hits (21st all-time), 2190 walks (second all-time), .401 on-base percentage (56th all-time), 1406 stolen bases (first all-time) and 2295 runs scored (first all-time). Henderson also hit 295 career homeruns, which puts him 122nd all-time. Let’s not forget some of his best single-season statistics: 130 SBs (1982); 146 runs scored (1985); and a .439 on-base percentage (1990). As announced today, Henderson’s name was placed on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. When he is voted in, I can’t wait to hear his humble acceptance speech.
By the way, I must admit that Rickey will always have a special place in my heart as I bought the first of many packs of baseball cards in 1980 and Henderson’s rookie card is the crown jewel of that set.