Jim Rice’s icy glare melted into a wide smile. Brash, flamboyant Rickey Henderson was humbled by it all.
The former left fielders were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday in Cooperstown, N.Y., along with the late Joe Gordon, and Henderson, baseball’s all-time leading base stealer, was briefly overcome before evoking some hearty laughs.
“My journey as a player is complete,” Henderson said. “I am now in the class of the greatest players of all time, and at this moment I am very humbled.”
Born in Chicago on Christmas Day 1958, Henderson moved with his family to California when he was 7 years old and became a three-sport star at Oakland Technical High School. Football was his forte and he received numerous scholarships. He was persuaded to turn them down for a shot at baseball.
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“My dream was to play football for the Oakland Raiders,” Henderson said. “But my mother thought I would get hurt playing football, so she chose baseball for me. I guess moms do know best.”
Henderson led the AL in steals 12 times and holds career records for steals with 1,406, runs scored with 2,295, unintentional walks with 2,129, and homers leading off a game with 81.
He said he owed much of that to a trick played by his former Babe Ruth coach, Hank Thompson.
“He tricked me into playing by coming to pick me up with a glazed donut and a cup of hot chocolate,” said Henderson, who played for nine teams during his 25-year career. “That was the way he would get me up and out of bed.”
Henderson said a high school counselor who needed players for the baseball team provided even more spark.
“She would pay me a quarter every time I would get a hit, when I would score or stole a base,” he said. “After my first 10 games, I had 30 hits, 25 runs scored and 33 steals. Not bad money for a kid.”
When Oakland Athletics owner Charlie Finley hired Billy Martin as manager in 1980, Henderson had the perfect partner in crime. “Billyball” – the aggressive attack Martin relished – helped catapult Henderson to stardom.
Just the thought of that time forced Henderson to halt briefly in his speech when remembering Martin, who was killed in a car crash on Christmas 1989.
“Billy always got the most out of me,” he said. “Billy, I miss you so much and I wish you were here today.”
While Henderson, 50, was just the 44th player elected to the Hall in his first year of eligibility, Rice had to wait until his final year of eligibility to be selected.
“It doesn’t matter that the call came 15 years later,” Rice said. “What matters is that I got it.
“It’s hard to comprehend. I am in awe to be in this elite company and humbled to be accepting this honor. I cannot think of anywhere I’d rather be than to be right here, right now, with you and you,” Rice said, pointing at the 50 Hall of Famers on stage behind him and then at the fans. “Thank you.”
Playing at a time when offensive numbers paled in comparison to the past two decades, the so-called steroid era, Rice batted .298 with 382 home runs and 1,451 RBI from 1974-89. He drove in 100 or more runs eight times, batted over .300 seven times, and topped 200 hits four times. And he’s the only player in major league history with at least 35 homers and 200 hits in three consecutive seasons (1977-79).
Pedro Martinez’s first minor league rehab start in preparation for a comeback with the Phillies was cut short by rain. The 37-year-old right-hander worked 1 innings in a Florida State League game before the contest was stopped. Martinez hit a batter and allowed one bloop hit during a 20-pitch first inning. … Joel Zumaya says he’s encouraged about his chances to return this season for the Tigers. The hard-throwing reliever said he hopes cortisone shots will allow him to pitch with a sore right shoulder that will eventually need surgery. He went on the 15-day disabled list July 18. … Tony Peña Jr., the Royals’ shortstop on opening day in 2007 and 2008, will try to become a pitcher. Peña has hit .156 with 62 strikeouts and eight walks in 276 at-bats the last two years. He was designated for assignment July 16 with a .098 average. … Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner was put on the 15-day disabled list Sunday because of a broken left thumb, leaving the AL East leaders without their fastest player.