Rickey’s Number 24 Retired August 1st, 2009

Two Saturdays ago, Rickey Henderson’s number 24 was retired by the Oakland A’s, who are now coming alive but still in the cellar in the American League West.  There was a sellout crowd on hand to witness the event, and a dozen or so of Rickey’s former teammates were on hand to wish him well.  These former players were announced and driven onto the field in vintage cars that stopped in front of the A’s dugout so they could walk out onto the infield and gather near 2nd base. 
 They all looked expectantly down the red carpet that stretched from there to the centerfield gate. 

When the gate opened, there stood Rickey, hands raised in salute to the cheering fans.  He slowly walked down the red carpet, through what surely must have been the current baseball team from Oakland Tech High School, his alma mater, and, surrounded by annoying print and TV camera men,
Rickey surrounded by photographers on red carpet.jpgmade his way slowly to his former teammates. He picked up a gold ceremonial second base and held it aloft as he did when he broke Lou Brock’s stolen base record. He hugged his old friends in turn, DSCF3646.jpgand gradually made his way to his seat near the pitcher’s mound and the evening’s emcee, former A’s catcher and current broadcaster, Ray Fosse.


Ray Fosse and assembled players.jpgRay gave a great tribute to Rickey, and announce that the City of Oakland has proclaimed the month of August 2009 Rickey Henderson Month.  Ray was followed by Oakland Tribune sportwriter, Dave Newhouse, who remembered at great length his and Rickey’s times in Bay Area baseball.  The most moving words came from Rickey’s longtime friend and fellow A’s pitching great, Dave Steward, who was propelled to the podium by the fans chanting “Stew, Stew.”  He talked about his good friend, growing up near Rickey in Oakland, and playing together for the A’s.  It was clear there was a lot of love between these two great players.

Rickey was then introduced and gave another wonderful speech.  This time he gave the Rickeyism fans a few morsels to chew on.  He said many of the same things he said in Cooperstown, but mostly he thanked the fans over and over again.  For him, it was all about us.  For those of us in the stands, it was a Rickey love fest.    

Rickey said he was proud to have his number retired, and again he finished with the word “humble.”  His mother gave him flowers and his 3 lovely daughters unveiled his jersey now affixed to the left field fence at the Coliseum.
  
I wish the photographers would not be so in the way!
Rickey's daughters unveiling his jersey on left field fence.jpg
Eventually, his number will go up on the tarp covering the top deck seats, along with those of  Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter, the only other players in the Athletics 106-year history to have their numbers retired.

All of us realized that we were in the presence of someone who did what no one will ever do again.  The game of baseball has changed since Rickey’s day, and not just because of steroids.  Pitchers are coddled, rarely staying in the game more than 7 innings and position players are regularly given days off.  Stealing bases is considered a low-risk proposition in the Moneyball era, although the A’s stole the most bases of any team in the majors in July, perhaps a fitting tribute to Rickey.
Rickey riding in car with gold base - cropped.jpg 

Rickey’s records are likely to stand the test of time and he will be forever honored in the Hall of Fame and in the hearts of those of us who were lucky enough to see him play. Rickey, I wish you and your wife, Pam, and your three lovely daughters the happy lives you all deserve, and know that you will never be forgotten, certainly not by this A’s fan. 

4 comments

  1. raysfanboy

    I give the A’s lots of credit. They’ve made some moves (dropping Giambi being the biggest) that are going to start reshaping that roster for next year. Not all of them are positive, but not bad. Glad Ricky got his number retired. As a HOFer you kind of have to have that done, right? 🙂
    http://raysfanboy.mlblogs.com/

  2. juliasrants

    It was nice to see the Red Sox & A’s retire Jim & Rickey’s numbers. While there aren’t a lot of base stealers out there now, I think what Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford are doing this season would make Rickey proud. And these guys are so young that who knows what they will be able to accomplish!

    Julia
    http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

  3. sandy.m.olsen@gmail.com

    I enjoyed the reports from your trip East to the Hall of Fame and the ballparks. It was certainly a trip to remember! I watched the HofF ceremony and the Rickey’s number being retired at the Coliseum on TV, but being there in person would have been the best. Glad I had the opportunity to watch Rickey play for years in Oakland, and he did his fans proud with both of his speeches. Nice walk-off homer by Mark Ellis today! Go A’s!
    Sandy

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