Monday, September 12, 2005

Before Manny, There Was Rickey

I know the Bible-Thumping, Gun-Totin', Gay-Persecutin', Scalia Lionizin' half of my readership isn't likely to read the New Yorker, but you should make an exception this week. The 9/12 issue has an excellent profile by David Grann of Rickey Henderson. Unfortunately, it's not available online, but there are a few anecdotes worth sharing. All typos are mine (obviously!)

Before the game he "went through the same pregame rituals that he has performed since he was a rookie outfielder with the Oakland A's in 1979. He sorted through a bunch of bats, asking 'Which one of you mother[scrumpers] has got a hit in you?' Picking up one with resin on the handle, he cocked it back, waiting for an imaginary pitch, and talked to himself in the third person, the words running together so fast that they were nearly unintelligble: 'Let's-burn-Rickey-come-on-let's-burn."
"Bill James, the oracle of baseball statistics, wrote, "Without exaggerating one inch, you could find fifty Hall of Famers who, all taken together, don't own as many records." Or, as Henderson puts it, "I'm a walking record."
"He insisted that he was no different from anyone else in the [Golden Baseball] league: he simply wanted to make it to the majors. But he also seemed shocked by his own predicament, by the riddle of age. As he put it, "There are pieces of this puzzle that Rickey is still working out."
"Jose Canseco, who played with Henderson on the A's, and who helped to fuel the explosion of perfomance-enhancing drugs in the major leagues, has said of Henderson, "That's one of the guys who's not on steroids!"

"They kept that shit a secret from me," Henderson said. "I wish they _had_ told me. My God, could you imagine Rickey on 'roids? Oh, baby, look out!" He laughed in an easygoing way. "Maybe if they weren't juiscing there'd still be a spot on a ball club for me. People always ask me why I still want to play, but I want to know why no one will give me an opportunity. It's like they put a stamp on me: 'Hall of Fame. You're done. That's it'.' It's a goddam shame."

"I'll tell you the truth. I'd give everything up -- every record, the Hall of Fame, all of it -- for just one more chance."
"He checked his cell phone to see if his agent had called with any word from the majors. 'Nothing," he said. After holding power over general managers for so long, Henderson seemed uncertain what to do now that they held power over him. He had even considered crashing a Colorado Rockies tryout for high school and college players.
"Who's that new guy they got playing center field for the Yankees?" Henderson asked me.

"Tony Womack," I said.

"Womack, huh?" he said, then added in frustration, "My God, you mean to tell me I ain't better than him?"
"When I went to play with the Newark Bears, I was sure I would be there for only a few weeks -- that a major-league team would call me," he said. "But one week became two weeks, and now it's two years and I'm still waiting for that call."
I asked if he would retire at the end of the season. "I don't know if I can keep going," he said. "I'm tired, you know." As he picked up his glove, he stared at the field for a moment. The he said, "I just don't know if Rickey can stop."


  • How appropriate. At the game Saturday I was chatting about Rickey with some other fans. Rickey would be a better lead-off batter for the Nats than anything they have now. He's a better hitter at 46 than virtually all of the current Nats. And he'd bring some things to the team that few others have: Energy. Bragadoccio. Effort. Desire. Honesty.

    I used to despise Rickey in the 80s. Even now as an old man he's a better player with more heart than virtually every Nat.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/12/2005 10:10 AM  

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