By Phil Hecken
“If my uniform doesn’t get dirty, I haven’t done anything in the baseball game.” — Rickey Henderson.
If that quote by itself doesn’t sum up Rickey Henderson’s career, nothing does. This past week, Rickey Henderson, along with Jim Rice, was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, Class of ’09. Rickey & Jim Ed enter that hallowed Hall via two different paths — Henderson a first-ballot lock and Rice just making the cut after a 15 year wait. Rice will go in wearing a Red Sox cap, while Rickey…well, Rickey will probably go in as an Athletic.
You probably know Henderson’s raw numbers — they are among the best ever. When he “retired” (or should one say, “at the time of his last major league game” — did Rickey ever officially retire?) in 2003, the 10-time AL All-Star ranked among the sport’s top 100 all-time home run hitters and is widely regarded as the sport’s greatest leadoff hitter and baserunner, holding major league records for career stolen bases, runs scored, and leadoff home runs. But what is perhaps the strangest (unofficial) record Henderson likely holds will be the fact that he has worn more uniforms than any other Hall of Fame member.
Henderson’s first team, and the team for which he actually had four separate stints and played the longest, is the Oakland Athletics. In his first stint, Rickey wore number 35, rocking that uniform tight, as was the style of the time, with high stirrups. Unfortunately, in his second stint with the A’s, he succombed to the fake stirrup craze, which led to this look…not good. But his original uni and unique “catch me if you can” pose struck fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers. He could stretch a single into a triple at any time. His A’s uniform collection wouldn’t be complete without the famous green jersey of the A’s.
If you simply took Rickey’s numbers from his time on the A’s, he’d still be a Hall of Famer. But Rickey, amazingly, played for eight other teams. After his initial five years on the A’s (1979-84), Rickey played for the New York Yankees from 1985 through part of 1989, enjoying the East Coast cool of the 1980s. He returned to Oakland in 1989, winning his first World Series that year, and staying with the A’s through part of 1993. He became the “hired gun” then, being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays during the 1993 season, helping the Jays win their second World Series. It was also Henderson’s second, and last, World Series. Rickey went back to Oakland for this third stint with the A’s in 1994, and remained with them through the 1995 season, eventually signing with the San Diego Padres in the offseason.
Rickey Henderson then played for the Fathers for two seasons, continuing to amass amazing steal, walk and lead-off home run totals. In August of 1997, Rickey was traded to the Anaheim Angels, an uneventful trade, and he became a free agent at the end of the season. By 1998, rumors of Henderson’s retirement began, but he re-upped with the Oakland A’s for his fourth time. Far from being a man of retirement age, Rickey continue to put up huge numbers.
A free agent again in 1999, Henderson signed with the New York Mets. While his numbers with the Mets were solid, he started off on the wrong foot by requesting number 24, a number “sort of unofficially retired” for the Say Hey Kid (although Kelvin Torve was also issued 24, for a very brief time, prior to it being given to Henderson). And although Rickey helped lead the Mets to the 1999 Wild Card, his time days the Mets was numbered after he and an all time Mets favorite reportedly were in the clubhouse playing cards while the Mets were fighting back in their epic series against the Braves that ended the Mets season. Rickey stayed with the Mets for a short portion of 2000, but he was on borrowed time by that point. Rickey Henderson would not be done with the Mets, however, coming back after his “retirement” for coaching duties, allowing him to further pad his uniform wearing totals.
The Mets would release Henderson and he was signed by the Seattle Mariners during the 2000 season (that shot is of Rickey back with the M’s in 2006), where he went back to his original number 35. He finished the 2000 season with Seattle, but returned to the San Diego Padres in 2001, where he continued to smash major league records (that season, he broke Babe Ruth‘s record of 2,062 career walks, Ty Cobb‘s record of 2,246 career runs, and Zack Wheat‘s record of 2,328 career games in left field, and on the final day of the season collected his 3,000th career hit.)
Still not finished with major league baseball, Henderson would play for the Boston Red Sox in 2002. His final (?) season as a major leaguer was with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003. Rickey would don number 25 in LA.
Although he never played another game of Major League Baseball, Rickey did wear more uniforms. He had stints with the Newark Bears, the San Diego Surf Dawgs and did a rehab stint with Portland Beavers in 2001. Will Rickey ever play in the majors again? Who knows, but he already wore this uniform once (and I was at that game)…maybe it will be his next MLB uni.
That’s gotta be a Hall of Fame record for most uniforms ever worn by one person, no? Truly, Rickey Henderson was the Man of Steal.
HOF bonus coverage: It seems that ESPN has already previewed Rickey’s HOF plaque. … Some players don’t always wear the cap you expect them to when they enter the Hall. Mental_Floss has just the quiz for you! Let’s see how YOU did (yours truly got 12/14).