When I first started following the Yankees, their lineup began with Rickey Henderson, Willie Randolph, Don Mattingly, and Dave Winfield. Though Winfield was my favorite player, Mattingly was the most popular, and Randolph was the two-time World Champion veteran, Rickey Henderson likely did more to cultivate my love of baseball than any of the other three. Time and again, Rickey would lead off the game with a walk or a single, steal second, move to third on a productive out by Randolph, and score on a single or sac fly by Mattingly or Winfield. The exceptions were when Rickey would lead off the game with a homer, something he did 81 times in his career, or when he’d steal both second and third, letting Randolph drive him in. In 596 games as a Yankee, Henderson scored 513 runs, drew 406 walks, and stole 326 bases.
Fourteen years after Henderson was traded back to the A’s, Rickey was playing for the Newark Bears, the independent Altantic League team owned by his former Yankee teammate Rick Cerone. I remember reading that Rickey’s monthly salary from the Bears didn’t even cover the rent for the Manhattan apartment he was living in at the time. Rickey was ostensibly playing to get one more shot at the major leagues, but he had already set career records in stolen bases, runs, and walks, and owned 3,040 major league hits. Though he did finish the 2003 season by playing his final 30 major league games for the Dodgers, Rickey was playing to play, just as he did two years later with the San Diego Surf Dawgs.
One weekend in July of 2003, I went with a friend’s brother’s bachelor party to see Rickey play for the Bears against the Mitch Williams-managed Atlantic City Surf. Rickey was having a ball. Before the game he took time out to sign autographs along the first base line.
During the top of the first he chatted and joked with the fans along the left field line between pitches.
Then he led off the bottom of the first.
Just as he had for the Yankees, Rickey walked . . .
Stole second . . .
. . . moved to third on the catcher’s errant throw, and, following a walk to the second-place hitter, scored on a fielder’s choice to the shortstop.
Three batters into the game, I had already gotten my money’s worth.
Not long after that game, Henderson signed with the Dodgers. On September 13, 2003, Henderson pinch-hit for Guillermo Mota in the seventh inning of a game between the Dodgers and Giants at Dodger Stadium. Rickey was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a bunt, to third on a groundout, and scored on a Shawn Green single. He was then replaced by Paul Quantrill, who came in to pitch the next inning. The last thing Rickey Henderson ever did in the major leagues was score a run. As it should have been.
all photographs (c) Clifford J. Corcoran; click to enlarge