Greatest Oakland Athletic Makes The Hall

Since the Athletics moved to Oakland in 1968, there arguably hasn't been a more popular player than native son Rickey Henderson, and there certainly hasn't been a better one. The flamboyant outfielder was honored for his magnificent career on Monday, as he was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame. We take a look back on the career of the all-time greatest leadoff hitter.

The National Football League's loss was Major League Baseball's big gain back in 1976 when a youngster from Oakland, California, elected to go pro in baseball rather than pursue a career as a running back. Henderson was a two-sport superstar at Oakland Tech and many observers of his football career in high school believe that he would have been an NFL Hall-of-Fame running back, had he chosen to go in that direction. Rickey gave up the pads, however, and changed the game of baseball in the process.

Henderson was originally taken by Charlie Finley's A's in the fourth round of the 1976 June amateur draft. He rose quickly through the A's chain and reached the big leagues by mid-season 1979, batting .274 with 33 stolen bases in 89 games for the A's as a 20-year-old. Rickey announced himself as a full-fledged major league star the next season when, under the aggressive managerial direction of Billy Martin, Henderson swiped 100 bases and hit .303 with a .420 OBP. He was the first (and remains the only) American League player to swipe at least 100 bags. He also walked 117 times that year against only 54 strike-outs. Henderson also helped revive interest in the A's franchise in Oakland and helped usher in the Walter Haas ownership regime.

The next season was interrupted by the baseball player's strike, but Henderson and the running A's still managed to make an impact. The team – playing a style of baseball termed "Billy Ball" – earned its first post-season trip since 1975. Henderson hit .319 with 56 stolen bases in only 108 games that season. In 1982, Rickey would make history by breaking the all-time single season stolen base record. He had 130 stolen bases in 149 games, a record that has yet to be challenged, let alone broken.

He continued to be a force for the A's in 1983 and 1984, but the team's fortunes suffered, as the A's posted back-to-back losing seasons. In the off-season before the 1985 campaign, A's General Manager Sandy Alderson traded Henderson to the New York Yankees for a package of young players that would help in the team's rebuilding efforts: Tim Birtsas, Eric Plunk, Jose Rijo, Jay Howell and Stan Javier. At the time, it appeared that the trade was the end of the Rickey era in Oakland. However, as it turned out, it was just the first part of his story in the green-and-gold.

Henderson would spend four-and-a-half seasons with the Yankees. During his time in New York, Rickey took his offensive game to new heights, establishing career-highs in homers (28 in 1986) and OPS (935 in 1985). The Yankees struggled as a team, however, and by the 1989 season, it was Oakland that was looking for a veteran to take the team over the top and the Yankees who were looking to rebuild. The A's were the defending American League champions in 1989 and sported a star-studded roster that included the Bash Brothers, Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart, Bob Welch, Dave Parker, Terry Steinbach, Mike Moore, Dave Henderson and Carney Lansford. However, injuries had made the A's vulnerable early in the season and Alderson, looking for a spark, re-acquired Henderson from the Yankees for Eric Plunk, Greg Cadaret and Luis Polonia.

Rickey's return to Oakland was a triumphant one. He helped the A's win 99 games and their second consecutive AL West title by hitting .291 with a .425 OBP, 52 steals and 70 walks in 85 games. Henderson then catapulted the A's into the World Series by terrorizing the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS. Flashing bright green batting gloves, Rickey hit a remarkable .400 with a .591 OBP, two homers, eight stolen bases (with no caught stealings) and seven walks (against no strike-outs) in the five game series. That earned him the ALCS Most Valuable Player award. Henderson would continue his post-season tear in the World Series, batting .474 with three stolen bases and nine runs scored in the A's four-game sweep of the Giants. Rickey would sign a four-year free agent contract with the A's that off-season.

The 1990 season was arguable Henderson's greatest single-season in his 25-year career. He earned the AL MVP award by batting .325 with a .439 OBP and a .577 SLG in 136 games. Rickey tied his career-best with 28 homers, walked 97 times and stole 65 bases. The A's won 100 games and once again made it to the World Series, this time losing to the Cincinnati Reds in four games.

The A's streak of three straight post-season appearances would be snapped in 1991, but the team returned to the post-season in 1992. Henderson was hampered by injuries, but hit still hit .283 with a .426 OBP in 117 games for Oakland that season. The A's would lose to the eventual world champion Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS.

The 1993 season was a contract year for Henderson and that coincided with the A's sudden collapse from a playoff team to a losing ballclub. The A's would win only 68 games that year and Henderson was traded at the deadline to Toronto for Steve Karsay and Jose Herrera. He was hitting .327 with a .469 OBP at the time of the trade. Henderson struggled with the Blue Jays, but he earned his second World Series ring, as the Jays would beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. Henderson was one of the players who scored on Joe Carter's famous walk-off homerun to end that series.

Rickey would return to the A's for his third stint the next season, inking a two-year free agent deal with Oakland. He hit only .260 during the strike-marred 1994 season, but Henderson was back in form in 1995 when he hit .300 with a .407 OBP. The A's, however, were a terrible club transitioning to a new ownership intent on cutting salaries, so Rickey was allowed to leave the club as a free agent at the end of the 1995 season.

Rickey signed with the San Diego Padres and helped lead that club to the playoffs by walking 125 times on his way to a .410 OBP. He was traded mid-season in 1997 to the Anaheim Angels, where he would hit only .183 in 32 games. Henderson would wind-up playing for all of the AL West clubs, with the exception of the Texas Rangers.

The final Rickey era in his career came in 1998, when he signed a one-year deal with the team as a free agent. Henderson hit only .236 for the 74-88 club, but he still managed a .376 OBP, 66 stolen bases and 118 walks. Rickey would return to the Big Apple the next season, this time with the New York Mets. He made it to the NLCS with the Mets in 1999, hitting .400 in the divisional series. Henderson would be traded to the Seattle Mariners during the 2000 season, and he appeared in six playoff games for the M's that season at age 41.

Rickey would bounce around for the next three years, appearing in games for San Diego, Boston and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2001-2003. He also appeared in games in the independent Atlantic and Golden Baseball leagues. Henderson played his last major league game in 2003, but played his last professional game (at least for now) in 2005 at the age of 46.

Career Records

The list of records owned by Rickey are numerous. He is the all-time major league leader in:

- career stolen bases (1,406)
- runs scored (2,295)
- games led off with a homerun (81)
- single-season stolen bases (130)
- stolen bases in a playoff series (8, in the 1989 ALCS)

Henderson also led the major leagues in stolen bases six times and the AL 12 times. He was the AL walks leader four times and led the majors in runs scored five times. He finished with 3,055 hits and 2,190 walks (the walk total was a record until it was broken by Barry Bonds). His career OBP was .401 during the regular season and .386 in 60 games in the post-season. He stole 33 bases in the post-season and wasn't caught once. Rickey was also an accomplished defensive player and he earned a Gold Glove in 1981. He appeared in 10 All-Star games and finished in the top-10 in the MVP voting eight times, winning once.

Although Rickey played for nine different major league teams, he is best remembered for his time with Oakland. Out of 25 major league seasons, Henderson spent parts of 14 seasons with the A's. He is the Oakland A's all-time leader in stolen bases, runs scored and walks, and he is among the Oakland A's top-five in OBP, games played, at-bats, hits, BA and doubles.

Rickey received 94.8 percent of the votes to be enshrined into Cooperstown. This was the first year that he was eligible for induction. He will be joined in the 2009 class in Cooperstown by Boston Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice, who made it into the Hall in his final year of eligibility.


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