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12/01/08 12:05 PM ET

Rickey a safe bet to reach Cooperstown

All-time stolen base leader on Hall of Fame ballot for first time

OAKLAND -- Rickey Henderson hit more leadoff homers than anyone in the history of Major League Baseball, opening 81 games with a round-tripper, but he also had a discerning eye at the plate, an uncanny knack for reading pitchers and catchers, and the ability to reach top speed within a few strides of his thickly muscled legs.

Nearly as often as not, Henderson would follow one of his 2,190 career walks -- second on the all-time list -- with one of his record 1,406 career stolen bases.

Sometimes two.

And after reaching third base on many occasions while his team's No. 2 hitter was still in the batter's box -- or with a walk, a stolen base and a groundout to the right side of the infield from the No. 2 hitter -- Henderson often jogged home on another groundout or a sacrifice fly, touching home with one of his record 2,295 runs to give his team a quick strike without the benefit of a base hit.

It was -- and always will be -- called a "Rickey Run." And it's a huge part of Henderson's legacy, which is being formally considered for the first time with the December release of the 2009 Hall of Fame ballot.

Henderson, a former Gold Glove outfielder who had a .279 career batting average with a .401 on-base percentage, 297 home runs and 1,115 RBIs, never officially announced his retirement after last playing for the Dodgers at age 44 in 2003.

Nonetheless, he headlines the list of first-timers on the ballot and is viewed by many to be a lock for first-ballot induction after a career that spanned 25 years and nine teams.

"If Rickey isn't put into Cooperstown as soon as he's eligible, something's not right with the way they pick Hall of Famers," said A's general manager Billy Beane, who played with Henderson on Oakland's 1989 World Series championship team. "He's the greatest leadoff hitter of all time, and I'm not sure there's a close second."

A candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to gain election, with former Red Sox slugger Jim Rice (72.2 percent), former Expo and Cub outfielder Andre Dawson (65.9) and former Twins ace Bert Blyleven (61.9) standing as the top three returning vote-getters.

MLB.com will have live coverage as results of the election are announced on Monday, Jan. 12.

From the time he made his big league debut with the A's in 1979, it was clear that Henderson was a once-in-a-lifetime talent, boasting a previously unprecedented package of power, speed and discipline that helped him change the course of countless games single-handedly.

"He put fear in the other team," Tony La Russa, who managed Henderson in Oakland, has said. "Rickey was an intimidator in so many ways."

In 1982, Henderson stole a record 130 bases, and it's a record that few expect to be challenged.

"No way," Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage said during the 2008 All-Star festivities in New York. "Even if the game hadn't changed the way it has, with the emphasis on power, that record would be Rickey's forever."

A 10-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger Award winner, the 1990 American League MVP, the 1989 AL Championship Series MVP and the AL single-season leader in stolen bases 12 times, Henderson had four stints with the A's and also played for the Yankees, Blue Jays, Padres, Angels, Mets, Red Sox, Mariners and Dodgers.

His last season of more than 100 games played came with the 2001 Padres, and he stole 25 bases to give him 23 consecutive seasons with at least 20 steals. He also broke Babe Ruth's all-time record for walks -- since broken by Barry Bonds -- and Ty Cobb's all-time runs record that season, and on the final day of the season, he collected his 3,000th career hit.

Henderson, whose colorful personality and unabashed bravado was a hallmark of his unparalleled career, took center stage on May 1, 1991, when he broke Lou Brock's career stolen base record with No. 939.

After stealing third base with his signature dive, Henderson lifted the base over his head and addressed the crowd, of which Brock was a part.

"Lou Brock was the symbol of great base stealing," Henderson said. "But today, I am the greatest of all time."

A classic example, Beane said, of Rickey being Rickey.

"They still play that at our games," Beane said. "I love it. It was perfect Rickey. Nobody was as good at what he did as Rickey, and he knew it. And he'd tell you he knew it. He's one of a kind.

"And you know what? He was right. He is the greatest of all time -- at a lot of things."

Mychael Urban is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.