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.
Rickey Records: I had forgotten how much I loved Rickey Henderson. I was present when he broke Lou Brock’s previous stolen base record (938 swipes)
and then put the new record completely out of reach by increasing it to 1046, a number that most people in baseball say will never be seen again. But he holds some other records that don’t get as much ink as breaking Lou Brock’s record: he has the most lead off homeruns in history (81) and the most stolen bases in a single season (130). Rickey scored 2,295 runs in his career (the most by any player), and he is in the top five in several other categories.
He truly is the best lead-off hitter of all time and the best player in A’s history. It was a thrill to be present while he experienced the greatest recognitions a player can receive in the sport of baseball–induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 26th and the retirement of his number 24 at the Oakland Coliseum August 1st.
Hall of Fame Trip: I was fortunate to travel with Sports Travel and Tours on their Induction Plus trip last week. We attended A’s games in the new Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Citifield, the new home of the NY Mets. (More on these ballparks in a future post.) But the crown jewel of the adventure was two days in Cooperstown, NY, to watch Rickey Nelson Henley Henderson be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In case you are wondering, he was named after the singer/actor son of Ozzie Nelson.
Four years ago, my husband and I had visited Cooperstown, and found a sleepy historic town
on the edge of beautiful Lake Otsego in upstate New York,
where the sidewalks rolled up when the sun went down. It was blissful then, having the Hall of Fame to ourselves for a few hours,
to tour slowly around the Gallery, reading about each Hall of Famer on the bronze plaques which are displayed along the walls in the order in which each player was inducted into the Hall of Fame. A few years earlier, the Hall had built a large addition, part of which added a rotunda at the end of the Gallery to accommodate new additions to the Hall.
But on this 2009 trip, we arrived in Cooperstown on Friday, July 25th, to overcast skies and hordes of people clogging the streets. No solitude was to be found in the Hall of Fame either, which is as it should be on Induction Weekend. Parents pointed out to their children the plaques of the players the dad or mom had loved when they were young. Others stood reverently in front of the bronze images of Babe Ruth, or Lou Gehrig or Ted Williams.
Rickey’s plaque site in the new rotunda was empty as his bronze wouldn’t be installed until after the induction ceremony the next day.
That same afternoon we went to the Clark Sports Center for the “Connecting Generations” event. It was a lot more fun than I anticipated. Three Hall of Famers
–former A’s manager, Dick Williams, Ryne Sandberg, and Goose Gossage–competed against four families from the audience in a Family-Feud-style baseball trivia contest. The Hall of Famers won by a small margin and the audience learned some things about the greats of the game. Harold Reynolds charmingly emceed the event. I did pretty well answering the questions along with the contestants.
I’ll stop here for today. This is part of a long article which I will give you installments over the next few days. There is just too much to share with you in one post.
Tomorrow: Induction Day. Future posts: Induction Ceremony, Rickey Steals the Show, Rickey’s Number Retired in Oakland.
A Record-Breaking Comeback of Epic Proportions: Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Twins was one for the record books. Gio Gonzales got the first 2 outs of the game and then everything fell apart for him. I won’t go into the nasty details because they turned out to be a non-issue, except for the substantial hit Gio’s ERA took. Suffice it to say that after 2.5 innings the score was 12-2 Twins, which included Jason Kubel’s 3-run blast in the 1st, Justin Morneau’s grand slam in the 2nd, Michael Cuddyer’s solo shot right after Morneau’s grand salame, and Morneau’s 3-run encore in the top of the 3rd. After the last home run, Gio was lifted for Santiago Casilla. It looked pretty bleak at that point.
But the stars were aligned in the A’s corner for the rest of the game.
They scored 3 runs in the bottom of the third (Daric Barton’s homer plated 2 of them), 2 runs in the 4th (on Matt Holliday’s first dinger) and
7 runs in the 7th inning which included a 2 run double by Orlando Cabrera and Matt Holliday’s grand slam to tie the game at 13-13, followed by a solo
shot from Jack Cust to put the A’s ahead for good. A questionable play at the plate that was called the A’s way ended the game in
the bottom of the ninth.
To put it in perspective, there were 27 runs scored, 39 hits, 8 homers, 9 doubles, and 2 errors in the game. The A’s stroked 22 hits and had NO strikeouts! The game lasted 3 hours and 32 minutes, and the paid attendance was 10,283, a large portion of whom had left before the A’s slugfest in the 7th ining. More than one record was set in this amazing game but the best was that the ten-run deficit in the 3rd was the largest one (by 2 runs) the Oakland A’s had ever recovered from to win a ballgame.
Matt Holliday summed it up best. “We were down by 10 runs. Hey, we had nothing to lose. The guys just relaxed and had fun and didn’t quit. They kept pecking away at it and hit what was thrown to them, mostly to the opposite field.” Maybe this was a good lesson for the hitters: when they don’t press too hard and don’t try to do too much, good things happen.
When Matt Holliday hit the grand slam to tie it, Bob Geren was positively animated: he smiled weakly and faked a small fist pump. After the game when interviewed in his office, the smile was gone and he was very matter of fact and droll. Come on, guy, show some emotion. It helps pump up the team. Jeez, you’d think someone died! My husband may be on to somthing: he thinks Geren’s a robot!
Road Trip: This will probably be my last post for over a week. The A’s and I are going on the road–together! Sports Travel and Tours has put together a wonderful Hall Of Fame Induction trip. We fly to New York and go to the A’s-Yankees game Friday night in the new Yankee Stadium. The next day we motor up to Cooperstown for two days, culminating in the Induction of Rickey Henderson into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
On Monday, our bus takes us on to Boston where we watch the A’s play the Red Sox in Fenway Park that night. The next day we drive back to New York where we go to the new Citi Field to see the Mets play the Colorado Rockies. The following day we come home. Sounds pretty fabulous to me. I am really jazzed about going.
So this is all you’ll hear from me most likely until late next week, when I will report on the trip and the A’s once again. Go A’s!!!