My Love Affair with Baseball (And Rickey Henderson)

As a child back in the late 70’s, early 80’s we only had one TV in our house and most of the time when Dad was home he had control of it. We were forced to watch sports. All kinds of sports. But especially baseball.

I grew up in Upstate New York. As a New Yorker, you had two choices when it came to baseball. Either be a New York Mets fan or a New York Yankee fan. In our house, it was all Yankees, all the time. So I grew up watching and learning the game night after night. At first, I resisted but then came to enjoy it and even appreciate it.

yankees baseball logo

I got to watch some of the greats play the game. Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Don Mattingly, Dave Righetti, and my absolute, all-time favorite baseball player, Rickey Henderson. Rickey only played on the Yankees from 1985-1989, but that’s all it took for me to fall in love. With baseball and with Rickey.

Once I understood the balls and the strikes, the hits, the walks, and the runs, it became a fascinating game to watch. While some people (especially today) find the game to be too slow, I find the skill and strategy to be exciting. It is so much more than just throwing a ball and swinging a bat.

Besides pestering my father by asking numerous questions, I learned a lot about the game by listening to the Yankee’s game announcer; the late, great Phil Rizzuto. Holy Cow, he was an entertaining guy!

The one thing, however, I loved more than all else was watching my guy, Rickey Henderson steal second base.

The way he would jump off the bag at first base, take a sizable lead, crouch down with his fingers fluttering toward the ground; just waiting for the right time to take off.

photo of Rickey Henderson A's with a lead off of base, getting ready to steal.

Every time Rickey was on base it would fluster the pitcher. They had to keep their eye on him while trying to pitch a strike to the batter at the plate.

When the time was right, Rickey would make a run for it. Usually being successful at making it to the bag safely. But the fun wasn’t over, he would often try to steal third!

Besides being an amazing base stealer he was just as good at being a leadoff hitter and an efficient left-fielder. I won’t bore you with all his stats…well just a few.

  • Stolen Bases: 1,406 (second place is Lou Brock with 938)
  • Runs: 2,295
  • RBI’s: 1,115

While many thought Rickey to be cocky, because he often spoke of himself in the third person, and on the day he surpassed Lou Brock’s stolen base record, he claimed, “I am the greatest of all time.”

He wasn’t being cocky…he was just telling his truth, Muhammad Ali style. And in reality, he wasn’t arrogant at all. He was a very humble player who truly was the greatest at what he did.

He was a man who deeply loved the game of baseball. It showed in how he played, how he helped the younger guys coming up, and the way he spoke about baseball itself. If his body would have allowed, I am sure he would have played many more years.

Rickey Henderson breaking Lou Brock's stolen base record. Holding up base.

“If my uniform doesn’t get dirty, I haven’t done anything in the baseball game.”

~Rickey Henderson

He did play a storied 25 years in Major League Baseball with numerous teams, but his home and heart were always with the Oakland A’s. In 2009 Rickey Henderson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

I was so disappointed that I couldn’t make it to that event, especially since I grew up not far from there. The following year I did get to tour the Hall of Fame and got to see Rickey’s plaque.

For me, my love of baseball all started when Rickey played for my team, the NY Yankees. I came to appreciate the intricacies and nuances of the game and learned to respect a great ballplayer when I saw one. And for me, Rickey Henderson really is the greatest of all time.

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