Big League Stew - MLB

So Rickey Henderson is being inducted into the Hall of Fame today and I'm thinking that I'm finally over feeling old while seeing one of the players from my childhood receive such an honor. I suppose guys like Ryne, Tony, Cal and Wade are to thank for that.

But there's also an obvious benefit to having been conscious for all or even most of a Hall of Famers career. When you're watching an exalted one deliver his speech on the great lawn in Cooperstown, you understand the reasons they're standing on the dais so much more. The days of forming an appreciation by pairing stat lines with what I've read and been told by older fans are long gone; these days I enjoy the ceremonies in high definition.

And with Rickey, was there ever a player who fit the high-definition description before we knew there was even such a thing? I can't lay claim to ever being the biggest Rickey Henderson fan, but there were few players who captured my imagination more.

Remember how you'd play baseball with your friends and would "be" a different player when coming up to bat? Our cleanup hitters changed weekly and even daily, but there was always only one leadoff hitter in our little games played in a suburban Chicago cul-de-sac that was thousands of miles away from Oakland and the Bronx.

Rickey was really the only choice and I think we all knew he was a once-in-a-lifetime player even then. We were all still learning the game — the different roles that each spot in the lineup played, the capabilities and limits of each position — but it was obvious that Rickey was able to shift the paradigm for each of his teams. A leadoff hitter who hit home runs? Yeah, it was hard for a young fan to get his head around, but it really made his brand of diamond dynamite all the more admirable and alluring for everyone who watched him. 

We knew Rickey for more than his talent, of course. The list of flashy, outspoken and ego-driven athletes in the '80s was relatively short and, in a lot of ways, Rickey served as the bridge between Reggie Jackson and Deion Sanders. Rickey talked openly of being a proud "hot dog" as well as an athlete who understood his No. 1 job was to entertain his fans. You hear a lot of that nowadays, but Rickey was one of the first to really embrace it. 

Yet unlike Stephon Marbury and Chad Johnson — modern athletes who court attention at a rate inversely proportional to their own achievement — Rickey always backed it up on the field and was so much more than his own self-hype or the John Olerud-type stories we wanted to be true but really weren't. He won the AL MVP in 1990, captured two World Series titles with two different teams and compiled a record collection that rivaled Rob Gordon's

Yes, Rickey was a completely unforgettable player over his tenure (or 25 year, really) and having the pleasure of experiencing it as a young baseball fan makes today's induction ceremony a special one. I assume a lot of people probably know what I'm talking about. 

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For maximum Rickey remembering, I've compiled a few of his career's best photos and quotes for your perusal. A big BLS head nod to the San Francisco Chronicle and TIME for tracking down a few of them. 

"Speeches and me don't get along sometimes. It is kind of like putting a tie too tight on my neck. I'm going to do whatever feels right." — Rickey on today's induction speech.

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"They kept that s--- a secret from me ... I wish they had told me. My God, could you imagine Rickey on 'roids? Oh, baby, look out!" — Henderson on steroids, The New Yorker, Sept. 12, 2005

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"Lou Brock was a great base stealer, but today, I am the greatest of all-time." — Henderson, on breaking Brock's career stolen base record

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"The more closer to the ground [you are], the less pounding you take." — Rickey, on his head-first slide

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"The Rickey Rally — a walk, two stolen bases and a sacrifice fly — was purist baseball at its best. Scoring runs, after all, is baseball's bottom line, and no one's better at it than Rickey." — Allen St. John, sportswriter, Salon.com

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"I don't care about them ... It's Rickey time." — Henderson, after being traded to New York, on what he thought about Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.

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"The only thing I wish I could figure out is how I got misunderstood regarding the type of person I really am and what I accomplished ... Just because I believed in what I was doing on the field and dedicated myself to playing the game, does that mean I'm cocky? Does that mean I'm arrogant? People who played against me called me cocky, but my teammates didn't. I brought attention, fear." — Rickey, Baseball Digest

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"I was stealing all the bases, and when you had to go to arbitration they said, 'You know, only the big boys make the money.' So I got to try and figure out how to hit a home run, too.' " — Rickey

"If they're going to pay me like [Mike] Gallego, I'm going to play like Gallego," — Rickey, on contract negotiations with Oakland

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"I'm a walking record."  — Rickey, who holds the all-time records for stolen bases in a season (130) and career (1,406), for runs scored (2,295) and for leading off a game with a home run (81).

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"I wanted to beat you in the worst way. If that made me cocky, so be it." — Rickey, Baseball Digest

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"Some way, I was going to scratch to get on base to steal that base. I steal that base, my day was good. My pride and joy was coming across the plate."  — Rickey

"Kevin, this is Rickey, calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball." — Rickey, calling San Diego GM Kevin Towers about a job

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"Smaller than Hitler's heart."  — Jim Murray, the late L.A. Times columnist, on Rickey's strike zone

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"People always ask me why I still want to play, but I want to know why no one will give me an opportunity. It's like they put a stamp on me: 'Hall of Fame. You're done. That's it.' It's a goddamn shame." — Rickey,  on not being able to get back to the major leagues, The New Yorker

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"If you could split him in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers." — Bill James, baseball statistician

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