OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 30: Rickey Henderson waves to the crowd after he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Oakland Athletics' game against the Texas Rangers at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on April 30, 2011 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
As part of their excessive between-inning entertainment, the A's PA announcer lets fans vote- by loudest cheer- which sport highlight they wish to see. The most obvious choice is usually reserved for the last of three options offered. Such was the case yesterday, when the throng of 27,285 passed on the previous picks in favor of watching the 939th stolen base of Rickey Henderson's illustrious career.
With the Hall-of-Famer himself in attendance, and 20,000 bobbleheads in his name stuffed securely under seats throughout the Coliseum (or whatever they're calling it these days), the curtain call for Oakland's favorite son wasn't at all surprising.
But that's not the point.
The amazing thing is that a highlight reel two decades in the making could draw such a resounding response. As Rickey took his lead off second base, there was that familiar sense of anticipation as if we were watching a live game, and as he bolted for the bag that would make him the greatest of all time, our hearts echoed the words of Bill King, "There he goes!" Finally the headfirst slide and the umpire spreading his arms, sending Rickey Henley Henderson safely into the top spot of baseball's most prolific pilferers, where he remains to this day.
And on an afternoon that the A's did very little right, Rickey- as he had been on so many occasions throughout his time in uniform- was the lone bright spot. He drew the day's loudest cheers, once as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and again as his record-setting stolen base was shown on the big screen.
It doesn't matter at which point you boarded the Rickey Tour Bus. Maybe you are like me who was fortunate to follow him from the very start of his career all the way to Cooperstown. Perhaps you came along as he returned to Oakland in 1989, led the A's to their last World Series triumph, and- one year later- was named the American League's Most Valuable Player. You might remember Rickey with Tony La Russa's last A's teams in 1994-95. Or it's possible that you latched on during Henderson's fourth- and final go- with Oakland in 1998- when he led the league in stolen bases in his twentieth big-league season. Maybe your only connection to Rickey Henderson is through word-of-mouth and what you've seen on film.
It doesn't matter.
Rickey transcends generations of A's fans, more so than any other player in the history of the franchise. You might not have a clue about Reggie or Rudi or Rollie, but every A's fan knows Rickey. Or knows of him, anyway.
I look at Rickey's career numbers, and I am still blown away by them. Some of his records will never be broken. You heard me right. Never. But Rickey Henderson, for all his mind-boggling accomplishments, is more than just what you'd find on the back of a baseball card. So much more. Thirteen seasons after wearing an Oakland uniform for the last time, the affection reserved for him- and the impact he's had on A's fans of every age, gender, or race- still resonates to this day.
I got this e-mail shortly after the game that further illustrates the aura of Rickey:
My cousin was born 19 days after Rickey's debut. Today he got to bring his son to his first game. The torch has been passed!
And so as baseball celebrates the 20th anniversary of Rickey's crowning achievement today- 20 years? Really?- A's fans will simply recognize this as just one of countless ways he left an imprint on our lives. But it's ok, baseball, we don't mind sharing him with you.