Rickey Henderson – “Rickey being Rickey”

This weekend I was finally able to get some downtime between work, a 3 year old and just life in general.  After finding myself on the couch with nothing to do, I took a look at our DVR and saw that I had recorded the ESPN “30 for 30” episode where they explored Deion Sander’s 1992 season where he not only played baseball for the Atlanta Braves and football for the Atlanta Falcons but actually played a game for each on the same day.  It was pretty good and there was a lot that I didn’t know about that particular part of his career.  I enjoyed watching Deion play football but his petulant arrogance and incessant mouth-running never really generated any admiration from me.

Ironically, I have always been a big fan of Rickey Henderson who is also a character of arrogance and big-talk.  I’m not sure why I have that double standard but I’ve always dismissed his antics as “Rickey just being Rickey”.  There are many “Rickey stories” out there and none of them are particularly flattering.  They are however, pretty entertaining.

Sunday I came across an article online where Rickey Henderson said he was hoping that Oakland’s top draft pick Kyler Murray would have chosen to come play baseball for the A’s instead of opting to play professional football.  He said that in 1986, he had gone to the LA Raider’s owner Al Davis and asked him if he could play football.  Davis agreed but the Oakland A’s put an end to that idea.  Seeing Rickey suit up for the Raiders would have been exciting to watch.

I’ve decided that in 2019, I’m going to focus on a few “player collections”. I’ve had a few going over the years such as Gary Carter, Michael Cuddyer, Ryan Zimmerman, and David Wright.  I’ll add Rickey Henderson, Adrian Beltre, Don Mattingly, and Harrison Bader.   I also think I’m going to start a collection focused on great action shots of catchers, outfield catches, or maybe acrobatic double plays.  I’ll save those ideas for another post in the future.

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite Rickey cards for your viewing pleasure.

1999 Topps Stadium Club – Of course I would pick one of Rickey’s Stadium Club cards to lead off.  I’m a sucker for the photography and Stadium Club is just loaded with exceptional photos.  This is my favorite of Rickey’s SC issues.  I can’t tell if he’s on his way to swiping second or third base but I’m nearly certain, he was called safe.   I love this card for so many reasons.  First off, it’s Rickey doing what ultimately defined his career, stealing bases.  I love the bright white, green, and gold uniform.  I love the mid-stride action shot and how he’s only player in sight.  The fact that this shot was taken during a sunny Oakland day game also helps. Rickey was a New York Met in 1999 so this shot was likely taken the year before when he was with the Oakland Athletics.  Ironically, Rickey hated playing day games.  Pitcher Tom Candiotti said, “We had a day game in Oakland, and Rickey struck out. He walked all the way through the dugout talking to himself, he always talked to himself. He was saying, ‘I don’t know who’s inside Rickey’s body, but he better get out because the guy in there doesn’t like day games, he only shows up on day games, so he better get out.'”  Candiotti said that the entire dugout was screaming in laughter.

1999 Topps Stadium Club

I love collecting the photo variations and short prints of past legends. Topps has done a nice job with doing this. Here are a few of my favorite Gypsy Queen Rickey cards as well as Rickey’s 2011 Topps Update “Legends Variation”.

2013, 2014, & 2018 Topps Gypsy Queen
2011 Topps Update (Legends)

1981 Fleer – As a kid in the 80’s, I knew Henderson only as a New York Yankee. I started collecting around 1986 and every Rickey card I had featured him in Yankee pinstripes. My grandparents lived next door to a family who had a kid that was a bit older than me and he had a shoe box full of mostly Fleer and Donruss cards from the early 80’s. I remember sorting through them one day and seeing these two cards of the 22 year old Henderson in his green Athletics uniform. I realized then that I would have known he was a former Athletic if I had ever bothered to read the stats on the back. From that point forward, I began looking at both sides of the cards. When you look at his 1981 season stats, you will see that Rickey lead the American League in runs scored (89), stolen bases (56), and hits (136). 89 runs scored and 56 stolen bases may not seem like a lot (he stole 100 bases in 1980) but 1981 was a strike-shortened season. This was also the year that the Athletics accounting department found their books off by about a million bucks. They actually had about 1 million MORE than they should have. They traced it back to Rickey’s million dollar bonus. Instead of cashing it, he framed it and hung it on his wall. Adding to the allure of this story, some sources state is was the Yankees who were missing the million bucks.

1981 Fleer

1992 Donruss – This set has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. In 1992, Donruss celebrated Rickey’s greatest achievement. On May 1, 1991, he stole his 938th career base; in doing so, he succeeded Lou Brock as baseball’s career stolen base leader. Henderson would end the 1991 season with 994 stolen bases. 1992 saw the Athletics finish first in the American League West with a record of 96-66. Their offense was centered around Henderson, Canseco and McGwire. The bulk of the Athletics’ 1992 accolades, however, went to closer Dennis Eckersley. Eckersley led baseball with 51 saves over the course of the season; in the process, he posted a 7-1 record with a 1.91 ERA. Eckersley’s efforts netted him both the 1992 AL Cy Young Award and the 1992 AL MVP Award. The mighty A’s would eventually fall to Toronto in the ALCS. In 1993 Henderson would find himself in a Toronto uniform and eventually a World Series champion. His Donruss base card puts you about as close as you can get to his record breaking signature head first slide on May 1, 1991. Here he is swiping 3rd against the New York Yankees. Seconds later, he would be called SAFE and as such; the all-time base thief. Now that I look at it, if it had been up to me, I would have used the base card as the “Highlight” card. The lime green and white batting gloves he’s sporting in that photo were a must-have for many little players that year. They were made by Mizuno and featured white leather with a lime green padding on the top. Very flashy and very expensive at the time. I had a pair thanks to Mom and Dad.

1992 Donruss Highlights + 1992 Donruss

1987 Topps – The 1987 Topps set has always been a favorite of collectors. featuring the wood-grain borders and loaded with rookies and future Hall of Famers, there are about 25 cards in the set that have always been my favorites. The Henderson is one of them. I love the symmetrical cropping of the photo. Starting in the top left hand corner of the card, you can follow the Yankees logo right to his head, down his torso and all the way down to the bottom right hand corner of the card. Straight as an arrow. Kind of a weird thing to find appealing in a baseball card you’re probably thinking. Due to injuries and only playing in 95 games, 1987 was a below-average season for Henderson and drew public criticism from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. It was the only season from 1980 – 1991 that he did not lead the league in steals. Harold Reynolds lead the league in steals with 60 and tells a funny story about a phone call he received one night from Rickey:

1987 Topps

“The phone rings; ‘Henderson here.’ I say, ‘Hey, what’s going on, Rickey?’ (and I think he’s calling to congratulate me,) but he goes, ‘Sixty stolen bases? You ought to be ashamed. Rickey would have had 60 at the break.’ And then click, he hung up.”

1989 Topps & Traded – In 1989, the Yankees; uncertain whether Rickey Henderson was worth a new three-year contract and desperately in need of pitching, decided to send him back home to Oakland in exchange for pitchers Erik Plunk, Greg Caderet, and a speedy outfielder named Luis Polonia. Contractually, the Yankees needed Henderson’s approval prior to any trade and he said that Oakland was the only place he would go. Wasting no time after the mid-season trade, Henderson reasserted himself as one of the game’s greatest players, with a memorable half-season in which his 52 steals and 72 runs scored led the A’s into the postseason. The move back to Oakland proved to be a good one for Henderson as Oakland ended up in the World Series for the first time since 1974. Despite a devastating earthquake at the start of Game 3, the A’s would eventually go on to sweep the San Francisco Giants. Henderson hit .474 with an .895 slugging average (including two triples and a homer), while stealing three bases. Earlier that year on August 22, 1989, he became Nolan Ryan’s 5,000th strikeout victim, but Henderson took an odd delight in the occurrence, saying, “If you haven’t been struck out by Nolan Ryan, you’re nobody.”

1989 Topps Traded + 1989 Topps

1980 Topps (Rookie Card) – Rickey had no problem making a splash into major league baseball. At the age of 21, Rickey led the American League in stolen bases (100), was an All-Star, and helped lead the Athletics to a 2nd place finish. His rookie card is one of the most iconic cards in the hobby and it’s easy to see why. As kids, we all emulated his batting stance at one point or another. His signature fits nicely at the bottom of the card and even with a pen, you can tell Rickey was “flashy”. Check out his loopty-loop on the “y”. Ask any of his teammates how “flashy” Rickey is and they will likely tell you the same thing about his pre-game ritual. Since he broke into the league, before every game he plays, he stands completely naked in front of a full-sized mirror, points at himself and says “Rickey, you’re the best…” (over and over…)

1980 Topps

1997 Topps Gallery – This 180 card set was released to hobby shops only and as I was heading off to college that year, I didn’t discover it until years later. Here we see Rickey in a Padres uniform. One can only assume he successfully nabbed second base from the New York Mets. That looks like second baseman Edgardo Alfonso in the picture. I believe this is Shea Stadium and after reviewing Alfonso’s 1996 game log, he played second base for the Mets against the Padres in the August 27-29 home stand. Looking at Henderson’s game logs, the only game he was in a situation to steal was the August 29th game. Paul Wilson would walk Rickey Henderson in the top of the 5th. With Tony Gwynn at the plate, Rickey swiped his 35th base of the season as catcher Todd Hundley’s throw comes in late. Gwynn would go on to poke a ground ball through the middle for a base hit, scoring Henderson. That same year, Rickey was caught speeding but not by an opposing catcher. It was actually a San Diego police officer. As he approached Henderson’s sports car, the driver’s side window slips down a few inches and a hand emerges with a $100 bill in it. The officer shook Rickey’s hand and sent him home (with his money) and a gentle warning.

One time, the Padres GM Kevin Towers was trying to contact Rickey at a nearby hotel. Not finding him checked in under his real name, Towers decided to think like Rickey and asked to be transferred to “Richard Pryor’s room”. Rickey picked up the phone.

1997 Topps Gallery

Joe Tinker & Dick Egan

In 1907, Second baseman Dick Egan of the Cincinnati Reds got real furious one sunny afternoon as Joe Tinker of the Chicago Cubs executed a vicious slide into second base.  Before the cloud of dust had even cleared, fans watched as the two men were back on their feet, shouting back and forth.

Egan (2)

Cincinnati second baseman Dick Egan

Egan challenged Tinker to a fight.

“You dirty blankety-blank!” screamed Egan, “As soon as we’re done beating your team’s ass here, I’m going to knock your blankety-blank head off!”

Covered in dirt and have already out-“blanked” Egan; Tinker picked his glove up off of the ground and accepted Egan’s challenge to meet again after the game.

Confrontation was no stranger to the Cubs shortstop. The dark-haired Tinker was known for his fiery temper both on and off of the field but in most cases, his mood would cool just as quickly as it flared and by the end of the game, Tinker would have forgotten all about whatever it was he mad about in the first place.

I say in most cases because that was NOT the case with his long time double play partner and Cub second baseman Johnny Evers.

Tinker

Chicago shortstop Joe Tinker

On September 13, 1905 in Bedford Indiana, the Chicago Cubs played an exhibition game against the local team.  That afternoon, 700 excited fans filled the wooden bleachers to not only see the major league team from Chicago but to also see Bob Wicker pitch for the Cubs.  Wicker was a home-grown local boy known to the town as the “Pride of Bedford”.  Those expecting a pleasant diversion in seeing the big league club showing off their big league skills were shocked when a fight broke out (before the first pitch was even thrown) between two of the Cubs, Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers.   Fans watched as Tinker and Evers began shouting at each other, wrestled one another to the ground, and angrily exchanged punches until manager Frank Chance was able to pull them apart.

As it turned out, Evers had ridden off alone in a cab to the ball field from the team’s hotel, leaving Tinker and some other teammates behind.  Tinker later told reporters, “I was real mad about and as soon as I got to the park I went up to him and said, ‘who in

Evers

Chicago second baseman Johnny Evers

the hell are you that you’ve got to have a cab all to yourself?’  Well, one word led to another and before I knew it, we were at it and rolling around among the bats on the ball field.  After we were pulled apart, I said to Evers, ‘now listen you son of a bitch, if you and I talk to each other we’re only going to be fighting again.  So don’t talk to ME and I won’t talk to YOU.  You play your position and I’ll play mine and that’ll be that.’”

The pugnacious Evers responded: “That suits me just fine”, and walked back to the dugout.

The two didn’t speak again until 1937.

But back to the ball field in Cincinnati.

After the game had ended and the both teams were making their way back to their respective clubhouse, Tinker had forgotten all about the challenge he had accepted from that “blankety-blank” Egan.

Not so for Egan.

Never returning to his own clubhouse, Egan patiently waited for Tinker outside of the Cubs clubhouse.  After growing impatient Egan furiously barged into the Cubs dressing room searching everywhere for Tinker.

Tinker had simply showered, changed into his suit and had left as he always did after a game.

Not seeing him in the clubhouse, Egan began screaming at the other Cub players, “He’s yella! He’s run out on me!”

Hearing the commotion going on in the clubhouse, Cubs manager Frank Chance walked up to the Reds second baseman. “I’ve known Joe for a long time and Joe Tinker has never ran away from a fight in his life.  Let me get him for you”, he calmly said.

Chance walked out of the clubhouse and up onto the field to see the freshly showered and fully dressed Tinker walking just past second base as he was exiting the ball field. “Hey Joe!”, Chance yelled.  As Tinker turned around, he saw the bellicose Egan tearing up the dugout steps and across the infield with his fists clenched.

At that point, he remembered the challenge that he had accepted in the early innings of the game. Tinker calmly put down his briefcase, handed Chance his suit coat and in a moment, the battle was on inside of a circle of the Reds and Cubs players.

It lasted perhaps 4 minutes and witnesses said that few men have ever taken such a beating in so short a time as Egan did from Tinker.  When it was over, not so much as a strand of Tinker’s hair was out of place

An unbiased witness did say that after it was over and Egan was on the ground staring at the sky, Tinker did have to “straighten his necktie a little.”

Jim “Catfish” Hunter

01241202Little Cameron woke up early this morning.  To give Mom a quiet house and a chance to sleep in today, we packed up a little bag of supplies and headed out to run some errands.  My parents live about 15 minutes away so we decided to bring “Sunny and Pappa-Daddy” Egg McMuffins for breakfast.  My birthday was last week so my Mom handed me a small gift bag with a gift and a page from last week’s Virginia Pilot.  The article was from the travel section and featured a quick story on the opening of the Jim Catfish Hunter museum in Hertford North Carolina.  Located in the Perquimans County Chamber of Commerce building, the exhibition takes up two rooms and features memorabilia from Hunter’s high school days through his major league baseball years with the Athletics and the Yankees.

At first glace, Jim Hunter may be seen as one of the more “colorful” baseball Hall of Famers.  The nickname “Catfish” gives that impression.  The nickname was actually given to him by the owner of the Oakland Athletics Charlie Finley.  When Jim Hunter signed his first professional baseball contract, Finley asked if he had a nickname.  “Jimmy” was Hunter’s response.

Seeing that “Jimmy” wouldn’t be giving Finley very many promotional opportunities, he fabricated a story on the spot – “You left home when you were 6 years old.  Your momma and daddy couldn’t find you.  When they did finally find you, you had landed two catfish and had a third on the line.  They have been calling you ‘Catfish’ ever since.”

After listening to this new story about himself, Hunter said, “Mr. Finley, no one has EVER called me ‘Catfish.'”

Finley simply said, “I just gave you $75,000.”

“Yes, sir.  My name is ‘Catfish,'” Hunter replied.

Hertford is just a few hours from me and makes for a nice day trip.  I’ll certainly be taking Cameron down there to check it out once he’s old enough to appreciate it.


The Jim “Catfish” Hunter Museum
118 W Market St (In the Chamber building located in Historic Hertford)
Hertford, NC 27944
(252) 426-5647

 

 

Bob Friend – Practice Makes Perfect…

My son Cameron just turned 1 last week and what a crazy year it has been!  It’s been fun watching his personality start to develop as he grows into a little person.  I’ve always been a “planner” so I’ve certainly got my eyes on the future for him.  We’ve set up his savings
01081202account already, the college fund is up and running, and I’m debating on whether or not I should just go ahead and start now teaching him to hit from both sides of the plate.  Being a switch hitter may generate more baseball-scholarship dollars one day.  All jokes aside (not really) and without even knowing whether or not he will ever like baseball, I decided to start a little project for him.

I started writing baseball players letters back when I was 9 years old.  My first “success” was a postcard from Johnny Bench with his signature printed on it.  I still have it and even though it’s not a real signature, it’s still one of my favorite pieces.

After looking at a stack of 8×10 photos of baseball players, I decided to mail a few off to some retired players.  My note explained that I planned on giving the photo to my son one day.  I asked the player to personalize the photo and make a short inscription.  Mr Friend was happy to oblige and personalized this photo of him at Shea Stadium in 1966.  He wrote:  “To Cameron – Practice Makes Perfect – NLAS ’56, ’58, ’60 – Good Luck”.  The return is absolutely perfect and I can’t wait to give it to Cam one day.   Mr Friend is a great through-the-mail signer.  This request took 5 days to get back to me.

Bob Friend is nicknamed “The Warrior” as he averaged 39 starts per season between ’56 through ’60.  1955 was unique in that Friend posted a 14-9 record for the Pittsburg Pirates and led the National League in ERA with 2.83.  He was the first ever pitcher to do so for a dead-last team.

Being credited with wins in the ’55 and ’56 All Star Games, Friend shares the record for most All Star Games won.  His ’55 start saw him strike out Mantle, Berra, and Williams.

It was an unfortunate turn of events in the ’60 World Series where the Yankees got the best of him in both of his starts as well as a save opportunity.  Game 7 saw Friend being called in from the bullpen to preserve a 9-7 lead in the ninth.  Friend gave up singles to Bobby Richardson and Dale Long when manager Danny Murtaugh replaced him with Harvey Haddix.  Haddix then proceeded to give up a single to Mantle, scoring Richardson and advancing Long.  A grounder by Berra scored Long tying the game 9-9.

Of course, the ending of this game is well-known and regarded by some as “the greatest game ever played.”  It was Bill Mazeroski who faced Ralph Terry in the top of the 10th with the score tied.  It was a 1-2 fastball that Maz sent sailing over the wall in left, crowning the Pittsburgh Pirates the World Champions.  The Series of 1960 would go down as Mantle’s “biggest disappointment in his career.”

One of the most durable pitchers of his time, Friend averaged 232 innings pitched and 13 victories for 15 years.  Had those numbers not been for some of the worst teams in baseball, Friend would likely be in the Hall of Fame.