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02/09/12 2:00 PM EST

Excitement was Henderson's 'greatest' tool

Steals just part of Hall of Famer's flashy style of play

OAKLAND -- Less than a month had passed since Jemile Weeks' promotion to the big leagues last June when Rickey Henderson walked into the A's clubhouse, all smiles and all ready to spill -- per usual.

"My goodness," he began. "See that kid. Usually you get a guy like that just coming up to the big leagues, he's got a little fire in him. He's a little hyper out there. It seems like the team picks something up."

Rewind to another June, this one in 1979. Henderson, himself, is the newbie. At age 20, he's making his Major League debut with the A's. And he's a little hyper.

During that game against the Rangers, Henderson managed a single and a double for a 2-for-4 day at the plate. Perhaps of greater significance, however, was another number he tallied: his first career stolen base.

Not even 5,000 fans were there at the Oakland Coliseum to witness the historic steal, but nearly 37,000 showed up on May 1, 1991 -- Henderson, by then, was enjoying his second tour of duty with the A's following a five-year stint with the Yankees -- to watch him grab another bag.

It was No. 939 for Henderson, who on that day broke Lou Brock's record for stolen bases in a career and proclaimed, "I'm the greatest of all time." His speech oozed of confidence and flare, much like his everyday personality that was hated by some but loved by many more.

Meanwhile, his teammates and opponents knew him as the consummate competitor, arguably the greatest leadoff hitter in the history of the game. He accumulated a staggering string of numbers that not only included 1,406 stolen bases -- almost 500 more than the next closest player -- but 297 home runs, 1,295 runs, 3,055 hits and a .401 on-base percentage.

Not surprisingly, then, Henderson was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2009 with 94.8 percent of the votes cast by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

"My impact on the game was going out there and making things happen," Henderson, now 53, said at the time. "To me, the most important thing was stirring things up and scoring some runs so we could win a ballgame."

Said Sandy Alderson, current Mets general manager and former A's vice president: "Rickey was the greatest, most complete player I ever saw play. He was always on base, had power, played excellent defense and, of course, could run like no one else. He could sear any game into permanent memory. Perhaps most importantly, he was always fun to watch."

He still is, and he's been no stranger in Oakland, having acted as a special instructor to the A's during Spring Training in recent years, passing along basestealing hints to the likes of Weeks and Coco Crisp.

"He's one of baseball's greatest figures," Weeks said. "What he did for the game, I'm not sure it can be done again. And I'm pretty sure he could still play and beat all of us around the bases."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.