Wednesday, August 19, 2009

TBG TV: Rickey Henderson – Leadoff Legend

It's been a month since this originally aired on the MLB Network, so in honor of my 100th DVR viewing of it this evening, here's my way belated review in "10 thoughts" format…

Philadelphia Phillies SS – and Oakland, CA native – Jimmy Rollins served as narrator. Rollins is an engaging, charismatic personality on the field. These skills apparently don't carry over to the studio. He reads off groaners with a mumbling monotone, such as "I feel Rickey" without a lick of conviction.

One of the few Rickey highlights I hadn't seen before shows journeyman reliever Larry Andersen – then with the Mariners – completely flummoxed on the mound as he steps off the rubber and looks to third base, then first base, then second base, back to third and again over to second just as Rickey steals the bag. HEE-larious.

Tony Gwynn's Rickey impression is the best I've ever heard. He nails all the proper components: the 19th century Negro inflections, the sandpaper pitch and the tired third-person references.

Kudos to MLB Network for gathering so many of Rickey's contemporaries and media gadflies to comment on his career. Still, I would've liked to have heard some sabermetric words from a guy like statistician Bill James who once famously remarked, "If you could split [Rickey Henderson] in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers."

I get that this was an MLB-produced puff piece on the majesty of Rickey. And, I approve. But, would it have been the worst thing in the world to air some of the other side? In 1984, the A's tried to get Rickey to focus on hitting home runs – a move made worse when he publicly resisted and had his mother intervene on his behalf. In Spring Training 1991, a disgruntled Rickey moaned, "If they're gonna pay me like [light-hitting A's infielder] Mike Gallego, I'll play like Mike Gallego." In Goose Gossage's autobiography, he called Rickey one of the two worst teammates he ever had. I love Rickey and all, but…I could go on.

In the same vein, Rickey set the single-season stolen base mark in 1982 with 130. He was also caught stealing 42 times and his selfish single-minded pursuit of the record (on a team that lost 94 games) didn't exactly endear him to teammates.

The video clips didn't always match the narration. In one place, the discussion focuses on the 1989 season even though the accompanying scene includes a shot of A's SP Scott Sanderson, who pitched for the team in 1990. Another time, there was talk of the 1982 season that featured a 1981 highlight. Yes, I know too damn much about my team. Don't judge me.

In 1985, Yankees 1B Don Mattingly stole won the AL MVP award due in large part to driving in 145 runs. Rickey's direct role (.419 OBP, 146 runs scored, 80 SB) in Donnie Baseball's superb season has been criminally underreported over the years, but he gets his due here.

The infamous "
jaking it" storyline from the summer of 1987 is touched on. This happened back before the 24/7 sports news cycle was created, but it was as widely reported as any baseball story of its time. Good to get Rickey's side.

Arrgh. C'mon, MLB Network…you guys couldn't air Rickey's 1991 "I…am the greatest…of all time" speech in its entirety?! Nearly 20 years later, that soundbite remains one of the most egregiously out-of-context criticisms of any athlete. The whole speech (printed in Rickey's 1992 autobiography, which I just happen to have right here) included thanks to his teammates, his first minor league manager, his mother, Billy Martin… Excuse me, I'm getting choked up.


SHough610 said...

I think everyone should get to root for a controversial athlete in their lifetime. I had Allen Iverson (who I still love and defend)

Jeff Hansen said...

AFter seeing the Padres, they had quite a bit of space devoted to Rickey, since he had just been inducted. (I thought it was weird, until I realized that he had set a disproportionate amount of his records & milestones in his two stints there.) Got me in a Rickey-research mood.

I found the most ridiculous stat. So of course Rickey is the caught stealing record-holder as well; that's to be expected. But while Rickey has the SB record by 50% over the next (Brock), he only has the CS by 9%. It took him EIGHT MORE YEARS to set the CS record after he set the SB record.