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All-Time A's #3

All-Time A's #3:
Rickey Henderson

The Oakland natives go back-to-back. While Stew's greatness was short lived and largely measured in immeasurables and Jermaine Dye's failure to put up numbers warranting consideration for this list will long be considered one of the greatest disappointments in franchise history, in baseball terms, most would consider Henderson the premier story of Oakland hometown boy does good.

Drafted out of Oakland Technical HS (my alma mater) by the A's in the 4th round of the 1976 draft, Rickey was on the fast track to stardom.

    He hit the ground running as a rookie in 1979, swiping 33 bases, seventh most in the league, despite playing only half a season. Fourteen years would pass before he would post that low of a total or finish that low in the league again. Starting in 1980, Rickey led the league in swipes seven straight times and eleven out of the next twelve years, including 1982 when he swiped 130, the single season record. In the odd year out, 1987, Rickey finished fifth in the league, despite playing on 49 games. Rickey finished his career (or so we assume) with 1,406 swipes, nearly 500 more than Brock whose record he broke with #939 on May 1, 1991. He would afterwards proclaim, "Lou Brock was a great base stealer, but today, I am the greatest!"

And, for a time, he was the greatest player in the game. His talents extended far beyond his speed. Rickey could work the count like few others and knew that his job as a leadoff hitter was to get on base. His .401 career on-base percentage was among the tops, all-time and, for a short time he held the record for most walks in a career. Barry Bonds has since eclipsed Rickey as the all-time walker. Amazingly, Rickey only led the league in OBP once - but he did finish in the top 5 twelve times. That one time came in arguably his greatest season, 1990.

How do you compare 130 swipes, 10 homeruns and a .398 obp to 65 swipes, 28 homeruns and a .439 OBP? Well, the voters clearly stated their opinion, giving Rickey his only MVP for the 1990 campaign. While some look at Fielder's power numbers that year and wonder how a leadoff hitter, any leadoff hitter could take the award from him, they clearly are not looking deep enough. Fielder led the league in homeruns, with 51, RBIs and SLG. He also hit for a decent average and drew a respectable number of walks. Of course, Rickey blew fielder away in obp and, thanks to his second place finish in slg, took the OPS crown from Fielder by a 50 point margin. Even before you take into account Rickey's dominance on the bases, this race should not have even been close - but it was - and is still considered by many to be an injustice.

Of course the stolen bases, the walks, having the most power of any leadoff hitter in history, those are all secondary to Rickey's primary goal, scoring runs. Heading into the 2001 season, most thought that Rickey had one goal to achieve before he hung'em up - breaking the longest standing record in history, Ty Cobb's career runs record. 2001 was his 23rd season, the 23rd consecutive he'd swiped at least 20 bases.

Despite his all-around greatness, Rickey will probably always be known for two things - his stolen bases and his diva-esque personality. He talks to himself, he talks to his bats, he talks about himself in the third person. He carries himself with an Ali like quality. Of course, with Rickey, it wasn't bragging because he could back it up.

I could not begin to do Rickey's career justice in this short space and I deliberately left a number of holes, so please, lets hear everyone's favorite Rickey stories ... and, of course, I always appreciate a recommend.

#10 Eddie Plank
#9 Eric Chavez
#8 Reggie Jackson
#7 Eddie Collins
#6 Mickey Cochrane
#5 Mark McGwire
#4 Dennis Eckersley
#3 Rickey Henderson

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