Yesterday, the inevitable came for Rickey Henderson as the sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer was elected carrying 511 of 539 ballots (94.8 percent) cast for 94.8% of the vote.
With 1,406 steals on his record and 2285 runs – both all-time records – Henderson redefined the leadoff position, while creating a rather colorful persona by speaking about himself in the third person.
Yet, it was the play on the field that defined the former Met, Yankee and Newark Bear and his teammates marveled in Henderson’s skill and style.
“His election is well-deserved,” said Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. “He was one of the best players I that ever played with and obviously the best leadoff hitter in baseball. We had a lot of fun pushing each other to play at higher levels. I’m very glad to see he got in.”
“Rickey and I have been friends for a long time, and I am ecstatic for him,” said Willie Randolph, who played with Henderson on the Yankees and A’s and had Henderson on staff with the Mets in 2007. “I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have played with a great number of phenomenal baseball players but pound-for-pound, Rickey Henderson is the best player I’ve ever played beside.
“No one was able to impact the course of a game in as many ways as Rickey. This is a great day for him, and I can’t wait to hear his acceptance speech.”
Henderson’s induction speech will happen in July, but here is NYSD’s interview with the Hall of Fame outfielder taken when he was a member of the Newark Bears back in July 2004.
NY Sports Day: What is the biggest difference in the way the game today compared to when you started?
Rickey Henderson: Fundamentals. There were probably more fundamentals. There were little things in the game that are missing today. That’s probably the difference (today) compared to when I started.
NYSD: How long do you plan on playing?
RH: I don’t know. I don’t have a timetable for that.
NYSD: In your 25 years in this game you have numerous records and accolades in your Hall of Fame career. What keeps you motivated after all these years?
RH: The gifts that I have. The gifts and desire to play baseball. That is what I set my life around coming out of high school and I still have the love for the game. I just don’t think that is my time to quit. A lot of times players don’t know when their time is up. It seems that it is not my time because I can play the game.
NYSD: Of all your records which one is the most special to you?
RH: The runs scored record is probably the most special.
NYSD: As a base stealer, what is going through you mind when you are on first or second looking to steal a base?
RH: It varies. Different pitchers have different motions and I try to pick out something while they are delivering the ball to the plate. What’s going through my mind is how good of a jump I will get.
NYSD: Has any major league team contacted you to play this year?
RH: We have had some clubs that are interested but are waiting to see what is going on. And to see how I play; what I do and how healthy I will be. Other than that there is nothing really definite right now.
NYSD: You are concentrating on base stealing and utilizing your speed this year. Are you making a concerted effort to drive the ball less and run more?
RH: Power never really was my game. You hear that they may want to see you run more and what you are capable of doing the best. I thought maybe that I was not giving them the stolen bases like they were looking for. I hit .400 here for 2 1/2 months last year and didn’t get the opportunity to get called up until I started going bad and not hitting the ball well. Then somebody got hurt and I got the opportunity. So I think it’s not the average that will get me to the big leagues. I am trying to get on base and create my running game and I will see what happens.
NYSD: Do you view yourself as a mentor to the younger players on the Bears?
RH: I think I am a mentor to some of the younger players on the team. I think they get a lot from me. I am the type of person who is willing to give lessons on what they are doing wrong and maybe I can help them.
NYSD: Of all your managers, which one have you enjoyed playing for the most and why?
RH: Billy Martin. I think he let us go out and play. He got the best out of you and he motivated me more than any other manager. I think he understood me because I went out there and gave him 100 percent each and every day no matter what was wrong with me. I gave him my best.
NYSD: What was your relationship with Bobby Valentine?
RH: We didn’t have a relationship. He was the manager and I was a player. We didn’t build a relationship and really didn’t have the time to have one.
NYSD: Do you have any animosity towards the Mets after they let you go in 2000?
RH: No, I have no animosity. I have no animosity with any team. I was blessed to get the opportunity to play baseball and I feel blessed to get the opportunity. What goes on (with the teams) I have no control of.
MS: Final question. How do you think this game will remember you after you retire?
RH: I don’t really know how the game will remember me after I retire. But I hope they remember me that I love this game and I played the game with my heart.