As an aside that hooks up to the events of this past week, I noticed this:
Few if any rookies had stepped into as potentially stressful a situation as Rice did when he was called up. He was a black player from a southern town coming to a northern city that was in turmoil over race-based school busing. Yet Rice insists that he wasn’t apprehensive. “I’ve been here since 1975,” he points out. “What does that tell you right there? I think it was more troublesome for people who were living in Boston than for me being from the South, because we didn’t have any trouble there. All the busing and everything was about people here in Boston.”
I also like this story involving Don Zimmer (about whose managerial abilities opinions have varied over the years):
Unless his hands were in a cast, the man insisted on playing. “Zim and I got in an argument one day because I wasn’t in the lineup,” recalls Rice, who considered the rotund skipper a Santa Claus figure (“He knew if you were good or bad.”). “He said, ‘You’re not swinging the bat good.’ I said ‘Zim, put me in the lineup.’ And he got up in my face. He said, ‘I said you’re not playing and you’re not playing.’ I said, ‘Well, you’re going to have two left fielders out there because I’m playing.’ So I played and I think I hit two home runs. After the game he walked by and said, ‘Well, I see you came out of your little slump.’ ”
The two players being inducted this weekend are an interesting study in contrasting styles and fortunes. Rice played his entire career for one team, the 48th player to do that and go into the Hall, and only the fourth Red Sox player (along with Doerr, Williams, and Yazstremski). Rickey Henderson played for nine different teams, including Oakland four separate times. Rice was about muscle, power, slugging, total bases, and driving in runs; Henderson was about quickness, guile, getting on base, stealing bases, and scoring runs. Each in his own way was a disruptive force, capable of single-handedly changing the nature of a game and creating palpable fear in his opponents. Although both are now considered perfectly worthy members of the HOF, Rice had to sweat out the last year of his eligibility before being elected by 7 votes, while Bill James once said about Henderson when asked whether he was a Hall-of-Famer, “If you could split him in two, you’d have two Hall of Famers.”
Rickey Henderson would have been inducted several years ago, except for the fact that he refused to stop playing professional baseball and thereby start the 5-year waiting period for eligibility. He loved playing baseball so much that he spent time in the independent minor leagues — teams not affiliated with any MLB organization. The last time I saw Henderson play was in Nashua, New Hampshire for the Nashua Bears against Butch Hobson’s Nashua Pride. This was 25 years after I’d seen him in his rookie year in Oakland.
When we pulled into the parking lot, there was a conventional motor coach — the Bears’ team bus — and a fancy, rock-star-type tour bus — obviously, the “Rickeymobile”. Even playing in the lowest level of organized baseball, Rickey traveled in style (I suspect he paid for the ride himself, as he wasn’t playing because he needed the money). The light rain had made it questionable that the game would even be played, but after a short delay, they posted the starting lineup — and Henderson wasn’t in it. He had a habit — annoying or amusing, depending who you talked to — of speaking about himself in the third person; we imagined him telling his coach, “Rickey don’t play in the rain.”
When the game started, Rickey was coaching first base, relaxed and chatting with the other players and the fans. Later in the game, he came to attention, grabbed a bat, and came up to the plate. The poor minor-league Pride pitcher, shaking like a leaf, clinging to a one-run lead, and facing not only the most successful leadoff hitter in the history of baseball, and owner of the all-time record for leadoff home runs, but the all-time record-holder in runs scored, walked Henderson on four pitches — none of them anywhere near the plate. Then, just as he had done hundreds of times before in the majors, Rickey single-handedly put his team in a position to win the game with some aggressive, flashy baserunning, and was standing at third base representing the tying run.
In the last major-league game Henderson played that I saw in person, he scored the winning run from third base to beat the Anaheim Angels — on “Rickey Henderson Day”, towards the end of his last season — and his fourth time around — with Oakland. But this day, the game ended with him standing on third base, his minor-league teammate unable to avoid making the last out.
Not many people even remember that Rickey Henderson played for the Red Sox — in 2002, the next-to-last season of his major-league career. At age 43, his OBP in 40 games was .369. That would be good enough to rank him fourth among the 2009 Red Sox regulars, by the way, behind only Youkilis, Pedroia, and Bay.
I can’t wait to hear Rickey’s acceptance speech, and any long-time baseball fan would know why. I know Jim Ed will make us all proud standing up there. It should be an interesting day; I just hope it doesn’t rain.