Siberian Baseball

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Rickey just wanted to play ball

So, let's be honest. The only real suspense regarding Rickey Henderson's quest for the Hall of Fame will be whether or not he'll break Tom Seaver's record for overall vote percentage - Seaver got 98.84 percent of the vote - and whether or not he'll refer to himself in the third person when he is inducted.

I'm betting he does.

The San Francisco Chronicle does a great job of wrapping Henderson's career up in a neat little bow and separating the myth of Rickey from the actual numbers that will put him in the Hall. It's gotten pretty easy to view him as a human cartoon, given the urban legends that surround him and the Chronicle helps put those numbers back on the front page.

First all time in stolen bases (by a wide, wide margin). First in runs scored. Second in walks.

It makes Bill James' commentary seem pretty spot on and less a work of hyperbole.

According to Baseball Reference, James is on record in his 2008 Handbook as saying, "Some people have asked me whether or not Rickey Henderson belonged in the Hall of Fame. I've replied, 'If you could somehow split him in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers.'"

One of the fun things about Henderson is that stories that circulate about him have started to resemble the cottage industry of Chuck Norris sites - Rickey Henderson has counted to infinity... twice... - and, to be honest, you really never know.

At the end of his career, Henderson had been shorthand for the stupid, self-obsessed ballplayer. He was viewed as hanging on to a dead career for far too long and being a self-promoting fool. Don't feel bad for thinking this, it's probably a pretty fair assessment of how the last years of Rickey played out.

(For the record, I lump Henderson in the same category as Yogi Berra, Ozzie Guillen and others who are known for being a little nuts or stupid, but are always entertaining. I think Henderson is clever enough to know that the myth of Rickey is better served by never correcting any of the funny, but somewhat inaccurate stories. Good for him.)

Regardless, consider this story (which is totally unverified):

He called San Diego GM Kevin Towers and left the following message: “This is Rickey calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball.”

When viewed through that prism, Rickey is pretty much all you could ask for in a ballplayer.

(Image from:



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