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

Frankie Frisch

02231101-2A few weeks ago I was able to pick up this 1934 Diamond Stars card of Frankie Frisch.   PSA graded this particular card a “2”, which is expected for an 83 year old card.  With 108 total cards in the set, the Diamond Stars set was produced from 1934 to 1936 by the National Chicle company. Each pack sold for a penny and features over 30 Hall of Famers.  Frisch is one of them and I’m certain this particular card was the subject of many “trades” between young baseball fans of the time.  I absolutely love the bright colors and art-deco themed backgrounds.  Many of the cards show the player “in action” on the field.  The Diamond Stars set was one of the first products to feature baseball cards packaged with gum (as opposed to cigarettes) and as many baseball fans did not own television sets in the 30’s, it was cards like these that gave them a handy visual as they listened to their favorite teams on their radios.  Given the fact that the set does not include the two biggest stars of the decade (Ruth and Gehrig), the set still remains pretty affordable given the other stars that are included.  I am not certain how many cards were featured in each pack and my 45-minute internet search turned up nothing.  If anyone knows the answer, I’d love to know.

Before entering baseball, the Bronx-born Frisch attended Fordham University where he played four sports and his speed earned him the nickname “The Fordham Flash.”  Leaving Fordham in 1919, Frisch signed with the New York Giants of the National League.  Playing for the Giants for the next six years, Frisch won a World Series with the team in both 1921 and 1922.  Leaving the Giants in 1926, Frisch joined the St. Louis Cardinals and became the driving force behind the “Gashouse Gang.”  He would go on to win two more World Series with the Cardinals.  The first in 1931 against Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics  and then again in 1933 against the Detroit Tigers.  Frisch finished his playing career in 1937. His career statistics totaled a .316 batting average, still the highest ever for a switch hitter, with 2880 hits, 1532 runs, 105 home runs and 1244 RBI. He also stole 419 bases in his nineteen playing seasons. His hit total stood as the record for switch-hitters until Pete Rose surpassed it in 1977. Frisch also hit .300 for his career from each side of the plate; the only other switch-hitter with more than 5,000 at-bats with this distinction is Chipper Jones.  Other career highlights include:  3x All-Star (1933-’35), NL MVP (1931), 3x NL Stolen Base Leader (1921, ’27, ’31), National Baseball Hall of Fame (1947).

s-l500One of my favorite Frisch stats though, is that he is currently tied for 6th on the all-time managerial ejections list.  He is currently tied with Paul Richards with 81 total ejections.

Known for his fiery competitiveness as a player, his managerial career consisted of more than a handful of umpires landing square in the path of his verbal lashings.

No other umpire was Frisch’s target more than Hall of Fame ump Jocko Conlan.  It was a match made in baseball-heaven as Conlan was widely known as one of baseball’s feistiest umpires.

There are many documented stories of the jaw-jabbing Frisch and Conlan engaged in on the field but here is one of my favorites:

On August 19, 1941 during a rainy game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, Frisch who was managing the pirates felt that the second game of the double header should be called on account of the weather.  The Dodgers had already taken the first game and as the Pirates were now trailing the Dodgers by a run in the third inning, Frisch shouted from the dugout, “All my players are going to get pneumonia because of you Jocko – you haven’t got the guts to call this game!”  

Conlan who was finding it harder and harder to ignore Frankie’s incessant heckling, turned to the dugout and yelled “Whatsa matter Frankie?  Haven’t you the guts enough to PLAY the game?”

After the drizzle continued into the next inning, Frisch grabbed a large umbrella to “further emphasize his point” and proceeded to carefully make the trek from the dugout to the pitcher’s mound as “not to slip on the wet grass.”  Watching Frisch approaching and wanting nothing less than to continue to argue with Frisch over the weather, Conlan stood there and let him march all the way out onto the field.  Frisch stopped right in front of Jocko, opened up his large umbrella and stood there staring at the three umpires.  As the fans and the press roared in laughter, Jocko took one look at that umbrella and gave Frankie the boot.  Norman-Rockwell.-Bottom-of-the-Sixth.-April-23-1949

Frisch simply turned back around and as he returned to the dugout muttered, “Can’t a guy have any fun anymore?”  

“Sure Frankie, have all the fun you want…just not at my expense!” Conlan yelled.  

The ejection would later serve as inspiration for Norman Rockwell’s baseball-themed piece
“Bottom of the Sixth.” 

Despite the frequent battles with Conlan, Frisch considered him a close friend. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop Conlan from giving Frankie the old heave-ho more than any other manager of his day.

Terry Collins – New York Mets Manager

Let’s wrap up this Friday evening with another Mets post.

Cameron received a great return TTM this afternoon from current New York Mets manager Terry Collins.  The inscription reads – “To Cameron – A real fan – Terry Collins”

I’ve always liked Collins and his managerial style.  01181201
With his old-school attitude, he’s an every-man’s manager and isn’t afraid to stick his neck out for the team.  This is especially important for someone managing in a city where the media can be absolutely ruthless.  Collins has been described as a “working stiff just happy to be working.”  It doesn’t hurt that he’s actually pretty good at it too.  As a respected baseball “lifer” he knows that every decision he makes as the skipper of a big league club is expected to be made with the intent of only one outcome – winning.

Critics will always call into question his 2015 World Series Game 5 decision to leave Matt Harvey in to pitch the 9th.  Harvey went on to give up 2 runs and the Mets lost the game. The logical decision would have been to bring in the closer Familia to toss the 9th.  Would the ending have been any different?  Even with a Mets game 5 win, the series was headed back to Kansas City for a game 6 and 7 anyways.  What were the odds that the Royals would lose those two games at home?  Probably slim to none.  So with that being said, you learn from the past and you move on.  2016 is a new year.  Hopefully we will see the post-season again and the outcome will be different.

I recently read an article in which Collins stated that the game has changed so much over the years and it is now a “young man’s game”.  He was referring to the technology, charts, and advanced statistics  that have taken over the game.  “I’m not sure how much an old-school guy can add to the game today” he said.

Later in the interview, Mr. Collins remarked, “I’m not going to sit there today and look at all of these (expletive) numbers and try to predict this guy is going to be a great player. OPS this. OPS that. GPS. LCSs. DSDs. You know who has good numbers? Good (expletive) players.”

Well said Terry, well said.