Oakland Athletics outfielder Rickey Henderson steals his 119th base of the year, breaking Hall of Famer Lou Brock’s 1979 record for stolen bases in a season.
Rickey Henley Henderson was born on Christmas Day, 1958. When he was seven years old, his family moved to Oakland, where the gregarious boy befriended Charles O. Finley, the owner of the Oakland Athletics. Henderson played youth baseball in Oakland with pitcher Dave Stewart, later his teammate on the 1989 Oakland A’s and 1993 Toronto Blue Jays World Championship teams. According to Stewart, Henderson had the same outgoing, energetic personality as a boy that he did when he became a baseball star: “Rickey was always the life of the party.”
Henderson was drafted by the A’s in the fourth round of the 1976 amateur draft. In the minor leagues he stole bases at a tremendous clip, including 95 at Double-A Modesto as an 18 year old in 1977. He broke in with Oakland in the 1979 season, but initially struggled to find his game. Then, in 1980, under a new manager, the pugnacious Billy Martin, Henderson broke the American League record for stolen bases in a season, swiping 100 bags.
Henderson stole bases in 1982 at an unprecedented pace. By August 27, when the A’s visited Milwaukee, Henderson had already racked up 118 steals, tying Brock’s major league record. In the third inning, Henderson walked on four pitches to reach first base. The Brewers knew he would look to steal, so they pitched out to catcher Ted Simmons, who threw to shortstop Robin Yount. Henderson had indeed taken off, and he proved too fast for the Brewers’ battery, stealing his 119th base on the year. The game was stopped and Brock and American League President Lee MacPhail joined the teams on the field to congratulate the new record-holder.
Henderson, however, was not done for the day. After a walk in the sixth inning, he stole second again. In the eighth inning, after his third walk, he stole second and third base, giving him 122 steals on the year at the end of the game. Henderson finished the season with 130 stolen bases, a single-season record that still stands.
When his major league career ended in 2003, Henderson was baseball’s all-time leader in stolen bases and lead-off home runs, as well as the all-time leader in bases on balls (walks) with 2,190 (Barry Bonds later broke this record) and the all-time runs leader, with 2,295. Henderson left the majors at age 45 and ended his career playing independent minor league baseball, still getting on base and still scoring runs. In a sport where the point of the offensive player is to score runs, Henderson did it more than anyone in history. He was inducted into the Baeball Hall of Fame in 2009.