Friday, July 13, 2007
The news arrived today that Rickey Henderson has been hired to the coaching staff of the New York Mets. You know, the team that knocked the Braves out of the top spot in the NL East last year. Man, how I love it when someone beats up on anything coming out of Georgia. But I digress...anyway, it did get me thinking about Rickey in his heyday. I don't really remember his best seasons in the early 80's when he made stealing over 100 bases in a season seem routine, although I think he came close to those stats in the late 80's as a member of the Yankees. I do remember how he made it look so easy though. Whenever he was on the bases, the game changed. Suddenly, the batter didn't seem nearly as important as Rickey leading off of first, just daring the pitcher to throw the ball. If there was ever a time that it would be relatively easy to be a major league batter, it must have been when Rickey was on base. He was so distracting to the pitcher that the batter must have had better pitches to hit.
In the late 90's as Rickey's performance began to decline, so did the art of base stealing. Everyone seemed to be caught up in the power displays of McGwire and company that stealing bases and stretching base hits into extra bases seemed to disappear. Everyone was trying to hit the ball out of the park. Heck, Nike even had a memorable commercial back then starring Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux trying to hit it out of the park. I believe the commercial was called something like "Chicks Dig The Long Ball".
If Rickey was best know for his prowess on the base path, he was almost as famous for talking about himself in the 3rd person. Always something like "Watch out, Rickey's going to steal second". I tried finding some quotes online, but the best I could come up with comes from just a few years ago when he called the San Diego Padres GM to let him know that Rickey still wanted to play. "This is Rickey calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball." Classic.
I don't know what Rickey Henderson will be like as a coach. I'd like to think that he might be a good influence on some of the younger players on the team. He's been a "special instructor" for the past couple of years in spring training, and he's been often attributed to the improvements seen with Jose Reyes, the current shortstop and leadoff hitter for the Mets (not to mention the major league stolen base leader). The Mets also have a few young guys coming up that could certainly benefit from that kind of instruction - especially Carlos Gomez, who I hear is even faster than Reyes. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. Hopefully it will be better than Rickey's stint with the Mets as a player around the beginning of the decade. That didn't go so well. I think the end was in 1999, when during the playoffs against Atlanta, he and Bobby Bonilla were playing cards in the clubhouse rather than associating with the rest of the team.
Finally, I came across a funny little article on ESPN's page two that I think epitomizes the personality that is Rickey Henderson. Enjoy....