This week it was announced Rickey Henderson will be joining Jim Rice as part of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2009. In my book, Rickey was already in one Hall of Fame, my personal Illeism Hall of Fame. He joined Leon from the Budweiser commercials of a few years past in the innaugural class immediately after I heard Kevin Towers recount the story mentioned above during a story on Henderson in an epsisode of HBO's Real Sports.
Now, there are more Rickey speaking in the third person stories than there are children fathered by Shawn Kemp, but this one has always been my favorite. While playing for an independent minor league team in a comeback effort shortly before hanging up his spikes for good, Henderson was heard saying:
Last night, I dropped down on my knees and I asked God, 'Why are you doing this to Rickey? Why did you put me here?'
Who knows if Rickey's questions were ever answered. But, it's good to know there is at least one person who Rickey thinks more highly of than himself.
I have to admit I didn't care for Rickey too much when he was playing. Actually, I hated him. When I was younger, I thought the hatred was driven by his attitude. But now as I look back, I think the hatred was driven by all the time Rickey spent in the pinstripes of the Yankees. Being an Orioles fan throughout most of Henderon's career, I disliked all thing Yankees. (I have to say now that I'm a Nationals fan that feeling hasn't subsided.)
A friend of mine who grew up in the the Bay Area, and who now is Shedd's Spot west coast bureau chief, once tried to convince me Rickey Henderson was the fifth best baseball player of all time. If I remember correctly, my friend had Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron ahead of Rickey. My reaction at the time was "no f**ckin' way". My friend has recently admitted to me he may been "overzealous in that argument" regarding Rickey's standing among all the all time greats. But, I think both my friend and I agree Rickey Henderson is possibly the all time best in the field of illeism.
If you would like to know more about Rickey Henderson's exploits, both on and off the field, read this 2005 piece from The New Yorker.
And finally, in a case of "if it's on internet, it's gotta be true", the Wikipedia entry on Rickey Henderson says he was named after Ricky Nelson. I wonder if Henderson has a sister named Mary Lou?