Rickey strolls down memory lane at Hall
Steals leader to be inducted to Cooperstown in July
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Rickey Henderson put on a pair of white gloves inside the climate-controlled vault in the basement of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and he picked up a shoe. It was white with green trim, one of his 1981 Brooks spikes that he wore with Oakland in his third Major League season. They were the wings of Mercury back then.
This was the first time he touched the shoe since he untied it 28 years ago.
He was in his own world for that one fleeting moment, wife Pamela by his side, a moment as fleeting as his sprint from first to second before a helpless catcher's throw.
"They don't make 'em like this anymore," Henderson said Friday, clad in black slacks and a white checkered shirt, and poring over artifacts from a big league life. "It makes you sad that not many guys steal bases today. You should be able to move to the next base, to get yourself in scoring position. I used to steal to get in scoring position because I wanted to be the person to score the most runs."
In a career that spanned 25 seasons, Henderson stole the most bases and he scored the most runs. For that reason and more, he will be enshrined right here in less than three months, along with Jim Rice and Joe Gordon at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Henderson was here at the Hall on this day for an informal "orientation" visit, a chance to tour the exhibits alongside fans, to see the archives and look through his collection of game-used equipment and publications and photographs.
After being shown around by Erik Strohl, the Hall's senior director of exhibitions and collections, Henderson met with local media, and it did not take long for the subject of Manny Ramirez and performance-enhancing drugs to come up. Henderson, a former teammate of guys like Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco during his Oakland days, said he hopes baseball will "get back to fundamentals" instead of "looking for that one big hit," but he defended any past or present greats whose names have come up in these recent years for whatever association, by proven guilt or otherwise.
"I was shocked, a little disappointed," Henderson said of Ramirez's 50-game suspension for testing positive. "Manny is a fantastic ballplayer. Most people don't really know him, because he's so nonchalant, but he loves the game. He's the guy who would tell you he just wants to play and not talk a about it."
The question, Henderson asked, is, "Did they do something wrong to the game?"
"I don't see that they did anything wrong," he said, answering himself as he sat in front of cameras, next to the plaques of Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner and other immortals in the hallowed Gallery room. "I think they did what was available to make themselves competitive.
"It troubles you a little bit, but [Major League Baseball is] trying to correct it. They're trying to clean it up like they did back in the Chicago [Black Sox] days, when they were throwing games.
"When the game changes, we always try to get that advantage. Somehow that era found an advantage to get bigger and better. It's just an era [when] players felt there was a way to get an advantage to be more competitive."
Asked if he had been "tempted" to do the same while playing, Henderson said: "I was too fast to attempt it."
Fast indeed. You could see fast on a wall of the museum, where Rickey and Pamela first saw his presence portrayed in the exhibits. It was a life-size photo of Henderson in a yellow jersey and white pants. "That was a jam shot," he gasped, looking at himself fighting off an inside pitch.
In that same display area, there is a head shot of Canseco, and right under that is a head shot of McGwire. The Bash Brother days. Henderson was the leadoff-power-hitter extraordinaire, the guy who hit more homers at the leadoff spot than anyone. Under McGwire's likeness is a pair of encased spikes, and those are Henderson's, too. They are white Mizunos, with his autograph in blue ink on each. And if you look closer at the display, it reads: "Rickey Henderson wore these spikes when he tied Lou Brock's career stolen base record with 938 thefts. He did this against the Angels on April 28, 1991."
Henderson went on to steal another 468 steals, utterly destroying Brock's record. It is probably another of those unbreakable records you see portrayed everywhere here at the Hall.
Henderson saw a black-and-white photo of Pete Rose diving headlong toward home plate.
"Look at Pete!" Rickey said, admiring Charlie Hustle. "He's coming home - divin' at ya!"
Henderson saw a photo of himself during his Yankee days, one of many pictures he and Pamela truly enjoyed reliving in the archives room.
"I don't care what they say, I had some good times with the Yankees," Henderson said. "Me and Don Mattingly."
Henderson would flash back to different moments as he walked through the Hall, the memories washing over him. He is heavy into nostalgia now, a whole unbelievable speech brewing in his mind.
"We'd say, 'George, go get us another pitcher.' He gets another hitter. We were the hitting club."
He was talking about Steinbrenner at that point. Something he saw made him think of The Boss. Everything he saw made him think of a Hall of Fame baseball career.
In the Gallery, Henderson gazed at Brock's plaque.
"You will forever be linked with him," Strohl told him then.
Close your eyes on this day, and Rickey was flying.
He was still wearing those winged Brooks, or those black Nike Airs, or those white Mizunos, or whatever shoes carried him practically airborne around the bases.
There was never another like him.
Rickey was having a great day, soaking it all in.
Not a good day, a great day. It is going to get even better this summer.
"You get more nervous every day, thinking about all the great players and being able to be in that class," he said, asked about the speech so many people are anticipating. "At the end of the day, you think of all the coaches, all the people who helped you.
"This is the main goal of something you want to achieve. This is the last go-round. . . . When you first started off in the game, they would show you films of Ty Cobb and other past greats. Now you are here, and you can see how special it is."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.