Outfielder Rickey Henderson is one of the most impactful players in the history of Major League Baseball. He was a master of getting on first base and when he did, his ability to steal second and maybe even third was second to none. That level of distraction to opposing pitchers is also difficult to measure. What is not, are the amazing stats he posted over a long career.
In terms of the all-time greats, I feel like sometimes he is underestimated because he moved around throughout his career, while some of his contemporaries played their entire careers with just one franchise. With his speed, ability to get on, and occasional power, he is considered the greatest leadoff hitter in the history of the game.
Man of Steal
It did not take long for Rickey Henderson to establish himself in the Majors. He was a rookie at age 20 with the Oakland A’s, and by his second season he was already playing in the All-Star game and flashing the speed and instincts on the bases that would power him throughout his entire career.
In year 2, he stole 100 bases, one of only three modern era players to ever steal that many or more in a season. Next in his sights was the single season record of 118, set by Hall of Famer Lou Brock in 1974. Rickey tracked that one down two seasons later with 130 steals in 1982. As a comparison, for the 2019 MLB season, the team with the most steals in the Majors was the Texas Rangers, with 131. Rickey was a one man offense at times, throughout his career leading the league in runs, hits, steals and walks.
Though his production was always high, Henderson ultimately played for 9 different franchises. Oakland, his first, was home for 14 seasons, over two stints, and included a World Series title in 1989, in the infamous Earthquake Series against the San Francisco Giants. That team made it back to the World Series the next season, but after sweeping the Giants the year before, they got swept by Cincinnati. A few seasons later Rickey was with the Toronto Blue Jays when they won the World Series on Joe Carter’s walk off homer against Philly. He also spent time with the Yankees, Mets, Padres, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, and Mariners. He is one of only four players to play for both New York and both L.A. franchises.
Hall of Famer
Regardless of your views on the value of the stolen base, nobody was better at stealing bases than Rickey Henderson. He led the Majors in steals in 12 seasons, his last as a 39 year old, as he always kept himself in amazing shape. Not only did he break Lou Brock’s single season steals mark, he also lapped him for the all-time steals record. Brock had 938 career steals and Rickey moved the record to a whopping 1406, a record that given the way steals have become taboo in the game, is unlikely to be broken.
Henderson is not only the all time leaders in steals, but in runs too. He has amassed also over 3000 hits. He is second to Barry Bonds in walks all time, giving him a lifetime on base percentage of .401. Rickey was a 10 time All-Star and won the American League MVP award in 1990. He was also the World Series MVP when Oakland won in 1989, batting .474 in the short series. He was a true gamechanger and was inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009, with fellow legend Jim Rice.
It’s safe to say there is no player like him in the game today.