Rickey was special, and he let everyone know it, which turned a lot of people off. However, Rickey's flash was part of what made him one of the most fun players to watch in baseball. Whether it was his bright green batting gloves, his snatch-catch (which always looked like trouble, but never was), his wiggling fingers as he took his lead off of first or his strut to first after a home run or walk, Rickey was a show unto himself.
He was also one of the smartest baseball players who ever played the game. I know this sounds strange to say about a guy who was often laughed at for his unusual diction, but Rickey could control a game like no other player I've ever seen. He used his own brand of "psychological warfare" to control opposing pitching staffs. At the plate, Rickey drove pitchers crazy by hardly ever swinging at a bad pitch and using his squat batting stance to turn more than one high strike into a ball. He used the "step out" better than anyone I've ever seen, interrupting the rhythm of even the most veteran pitcher. Then once the pitcher was worn out from having to throw to Rickey, he then had to deal with him on the basepaths, where Rickey was truly the master.
For Rickey, it seemed that stealing bases was an art form and he was the Picasso of his time. He didn't do it conventionally -- more than one coach tried to get him to change that head-first slide -- but he did it more effectively than anyone who ever lived. Rickey would study the tendencies of pitchers and could get a huge jump on almost all of them. He could also affect the pitcher's throws to the plate by goading the hurler into thinking his was running, forcing the pitcher to hurl fat fastballs to the plate. More than one star benefited from Rickey's ability to influence the pitcher.
Rickey's greatest moment may have been the 1989 ALCS, when he single-handedly destroyed the confidence of the Toronto Blue Jays. It wasn't that he won the ALCS MVP that made his presence great in that series. It was the effect he had on the psyche of a tough Toronto team. Blue Jay outfielder Lloyd Moseby, a fellow Oakland native who had known Rickey for years, pleaded with his team during the series to tune Rickey out. His teammates were unable to do so and the A's rode Rickey's bright green batting gloves to the AL Championship and an eventual World Series title.
Rickey's career numbers speak for themselves: the single season and career stolen base record, the all-time record for runs scored, second all-time in walks, the record for most home runs to lead-off a game, a gold glove, an MVP, an ALCS MVP and two World Series rings. He finished his career with more than 3,000 games played, a .401 OBP, 297 HR, 3055 hits and a 1000-watt smile. I can't wait to hear his Hall of Fame induction speech, which should be one of "the greatest of all-time."
Rickey may not have played his entire career in Oakland, but there was never any doubt where his heart was. The A's should immediately do the right thing and retire either the number 24 or 35 (his choice) and have a day (or two) in his honor so that the fans can, one more time, see the great one on the field in Oakland.
Note: this article also appeared on the Oakland A's MVN blog.