No sooner did The Oakland A’s announce yesterday their intent to retire RIckey Henderson’s no. 24 later this season did the Contra Costa Times’ Gary Peterson point out Henderson wore no. 35 during his first 6 campaigns with Oakland, including the 1982 season in which he stole 130 bases. Such inconsistencies are part of Rickey’s appeal in the eyes of the SF Chronicle’s Gwen Knapp, who hopes “as all the pomp unfolds around the Bay Area’s newest Hall of Famer, someone remembers to add levity to the proceedings.” (Bay Area newspaper links courtesy Baseball Think Factory)
The A’s might want to show a video of Henderson in various jerseys over 27 years, from the A’s of 1979 to the Yankees to the A’s again, then to the Padres twice, the A’s two more times, and to the Newark Bears and San Diego Surf Dawgs. His refusal to retire from baseball – which appears to remain half in effect, despite his election to the Hall of Fame – reflected both his eccentricity and his devotion to the sport.
Those 41/2 years in a Yankees uniform never made sense. The pictures of him in pinstripes look like early experiments in Photoshop manipulation. Henderson’s remarkable skills belonged among greats, on the same turf as monuments to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Parts of his personality certainly belonged in the former home of Yogi Berra.
But compared with Henderson, Berra was a conformist, standard Yankee fare. A great Yankee is a legend. Henderson is pure folklore.
Forever talking to himself, crouched into a batting stance that obliterated anything resembling a conventional strike zone, Henderson looked most natural in the green and gold uniforms and white shoes of Oakland. Right after voters put him in the Hall of Fame last winter, Henderson went on a radio show and sifted through some mythology about himself.
He confirmed that he had once fallen asleep while icing an ankle and gotten frostbite that kept him out of three games. He said that he had, in fact, framed a $1 million bonus check, waiting months to cash it. He also said that he’d answer any call to come back and play, even at age 50. If someone asks in 10 years, long after the A’s have retired his No. 24, he’ll probably say the same thing.