This week’s column is dedicated to my beloved dog, Cruiser, who recently had to be put to sleep. She was much more than a pet to me during her 17 years. I loved her and miss her very much. My Sports Junkie Website article dated 5-20-04 is devoted entirely to Cruiser.
Story of the Week
There have been some great leadoff hitters in baseball. Then there was Rickey Henderson, the No. 1 leadoff hitter the game has ever known.
He’s the most powerful leadoff man in history. Henderson broke Bobby Bonds’ career record for leadoff homers in 1989. He was named AL MVP in 1990, broke Lou Brock’s record for career steals on May 1, 1991, and a year later (to the day) became the first player to steal 1,000 career bases.
None of this surprised long-time Henderson watchers, who became convinced of his gifts when he played for Modesto of the California League. In 1977, Rickey stole a record 95 bases, led the league outfielders in total chances, and hit .345 to be named MVP, and became only the fourth man in professional baseball history to steal seven bases in a single game.
Brought up to Oakland in 1979, he stole 33 bases in just 89 games. A year later, he became the first AL player to steal 100 bases in a season, was second in the AL in walks, third in on-base percentage and fourth in runs scored. A year later, during the strike-shortened 1981 season, he led the league in hits, runs, steals, outfielder putouts and total chances, and won a Gold Glove, his first of many as a fine defensive outfielder.
In 1982, Henderson broke Lou Brock’s record of 118 steals in a season, winding up with 130. After the 1984 season, he became a Yankee. Although he missed the first 10 games of the 1985 season with a sprained ankle, he hit 24 homers, knocked in 72 runs (keep in mind, in the No. 1 batting slot), batted .314, and led the league in runs scored with 146, the highest total since Ted Williams’ scored 150 in 1949.
Henderson led the league in steals every year from 1980 to 1990, the singular exception being 1987 when he missed 57 games due to injuries. Traded back to Oakland in June 1989, Rickey helped the A’s win the division and starred in the playoffs, tying Jim Rice’s record of eight runs scored in a single series, stealing a record eight bases and being named series MVP. He was chosen World Series MVP as well, and was named season MVP in 1990 when he hit .325 with 28 home runs.
He finally called it quits in 2003, concluding a brilliant 25-year career at age 44. He played in 3,081 games during that career. He’s the all-time leader in runs scored, steals, walks and home runs as a leadoff hitter. The responsibility of a leadoff hitter is to get on base. He did—3,055 hits and a .279 batting average with 2,190 walks. Sometimes, stats can be misleading, but not with this guy. His ability to combine a record 1,406 stolen bases with 297 home runs is a parlay destined for the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
(This just in! As of this writing, 45-year-old Rickey Henderson is attempting a comeback with the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League.)
Last Week’s Trivia
Jim Konstanty of the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies was the first relief pitcher to win the MVP award in the major leagues.
Trivia Question of the Week
Who’s responsible for naming that great NFL event "The Super Bowl?" See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.
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