When Rickey Henderson was introduced to the crowd at the 2009 Hall of Fame Indiuction Ceremony, a roar went up from the 21,000+ fans in attendance. Rickey played for nine teams in his career, so he had a lot of fans present sporting different logos, but by far the largest percentage were wearing the green and gold of the Oakland A’s. It also didn’t hurt that Sports Travel and Tours had seven bus loads of mostly A’s fans in the audience.
Unfortunately, we were sitting so far away that Rickey appeared to be a cream-colored dot amid the sea of dark suits on the unlighted stage. That’s Rickey seated at the left end of the front row next to the red, white and blue bunting. (By the way, this picture was taken with the maximum zoom on my camera which makes Rickey look much closer than he really was.) Consequently, we were forced to watch most of the festivities on the large TV screen to the left of the stage. The thought flashed through my mind that I could been dry and comfy watching this at home, but I dismissed it immediately. There was something electric about being among the fans present sending love to Rickey in his moment of glory. I felt humbled by being able to witness history in person.
Rickey’s speech had been eagerly anticipated by the media and the blogosphere, who looked forward to “Rickeyisms.” 3rd person references to himself, and another “I am the greatest of all time” speech. Those who wanted to hear these Rickey trademarks were sorely disappointed. The majority of us were hoping that Ricky would give a great speech and do us proud, and in that regard he hit it out of the park.
He talked about growing up in Oakland, how he really wanted to play football, but his mother told him to play baseball because she was worried him getting hurt, how when Rickey was a boy his coach brought him hot chocolate and doughnuts when he came to pick him up to make sure he came to Babe Ruth baseball practice, and how Mrs. Tommie Wilkerson, his high school guidance counselor encouraged his success on the diamond with quarters for hits, stolen bases and home runs.
He thanked his former managers, especially Billy Martin, whom he said he would never forget and wished he could be there that day. And he thanked Charlie Finley (and his donkey) and the Haas family for giving him the chance to play baseball in Oakland. And he thanked the fans who supported him no matter where he played. (Go here to read a transcript of the speech: http://nationalsportsreview.com/sports/us/digitalsportsdaily/2009/07/26/rickey-henderson-hall-of-fame-induction-speech/)
In closing, he suckered us all into expecting a flash of Rickey ego when he said: “I am now in the class of the greatest players of all time. And, at this moment, I am…” He paused and looked up. Here it comes we all thought. “I am…very…very…(long pause)… humble.” Just the right note to end the perfect speech. The crowd got to its feet and the applause could be heard in the next county. If you want to see some of his speech again (or for the first time), here is a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tcd0fdt4JyU.
Rickey was later interviewed about the speech. He said he had attended classes at Laney College in Oakland to learn how to deliver the speech.
Can you imagine being a student in that speech class when Rickey Henderson walked in and sat down? They probably thought they’d died and gone to heaven! He also said that he practiced his speech for three solid days before traveling to Cooperstown. When asked about the cream-colored suit he wore, he said it was 10 years old.
God love you, Rickey!
Rickey was truly unique, a very special one of a kind. A great baseball player, the best leadoff hitter of all time, some say the best left fielder ever, certainly the best Oakland Athletic in history, and among the very greatest of players who ever played the game of baseball. But he was more than that. In his four stints with the Athletics, he became the face of the A’s and a delight to the fans who often chanted, “Run, Rickey, run,” whenever he got on base, and run he usually did.
I remember going to the first game he played in Oakland after being traded from the Yankees midseason in 1989. When he was announced, the applause was thunderous, all of us on our feet, yelling as loud as we could and beating on anything that would make noise to welcome him back. He turbocharged an already good team into the World Series that year–the infamous Earthquake Series–and was the AL MVP the following year. And now he is in the Hall of Fame wearing an A’s cap. It can’t get any better than that!
Tomorrow: Rickey’s Number Retired in Oakland.