One of my all-time favorite players and the greatest leadoff man in baseball history goes into the Hall of Fame this weekend, and there are plenty of amusing Rickey Henderson stories popping up in preparation for his induction.
For instance, Monty Poole of the San Jose Mercury News has an entertaining article about Henderson's mom, Bobbie, who was convinced that she was having a girl until giving birth to Rickey Nelson Henley Henderson on Christmas Day in 1958:
He was my Christmas baby and people always said he was like me. See, Rickey's always been stout. He wasn't chubby, but he was solid. Everybody would tell him he had his mama's legs, his mama's hips and his mama's little waist. I used to wonder if the reason he was built like me was because I wanted a girl so bad. I thought I was going to have a girl. I would even say I hoped it was a girl. ...
Rickey got knocked out once playing football in high school, and that really shook me up. I didn't want him out there. He just got the wind knocked out of him, but that was enough for me. I didn't come out and tell him to play baseball. I kept telling him I was with him, whatever he did, but I really didn't want him playing football.
Instead of being a football-playing girl, Henderson played the fourth-most games in baseball history, notched 3,055 hits, went to the All-Star game 10 times, won the AL MVP in 1990, set the single-season steals record with 130 in 1982, and ranked as the all-time leader in stolen bases (1,406), walks (2,190), and runs scored (2,295) at the time of his retirement following an amazing 25-year career.
Years ago, when asked if he felt that Henderson was qualified for Cooperstown, Bill James replied: "If you could split him in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers." He'll go into the Hall of Fame in one piece Sunday, but not before trying to get over his fear of public speaking by practicing his induction speech for the past month in front of students at Laney College:
Speech and me don't get along sometimes. I'm not a doctor or professor, so for me to go and write a speech or read a speech, it's kind of like putting a tie too tight around my neck. It helped me a lot. I had a lot of fun with it. I never thought I could come back to class and have fun. But it gave me a chance to do something different and work on some things. I talk so fast and my tongue kind of takes off sometimes. ... Shoot, I was scared the first time I got up and read to the class.
Along with being an inner-circle Hall of Famer and easy first-ballot selection Henderson was famous for speaking in the third person and producing a never-ending supply of anecdotes (some real and some apocryphal) thanks to his famous Rickey-speak. Here's hoping that all the work he's put in polishing his speech won't keep him from at least a few Yogi Berra-like moments Sunday.