Run, Rickey, run
By Lenny DiFranza
I remember May 1, 1991 as a bright Northern California day with a clear blue sky. That’s not unusual; time has tinted a lot of my memories with postcard-colors. But this day is fixed in my mind because I was on hand for the A’s game when Rickey Henderson passed Lou Brock’s all-time record for stolen bases. I’ve been thinking about that day as I researched the game for our new exhibit – One for the Books: Baseball Records and the Stories Behind Them.
It was a big crowd with every reason to expect an Oakland victory. The first-place A’s, who had played in three straight World Series, were facing a New York Yankees squad that had sunk to last in the AL East. Henderson was a more interesting story as he entered the game tied with Brock at 938 steals.
In the top of the first, Henderson ran out to his post in left and waved as we hooted and shouted his name form the centerfield bleachers. After he took first with a walk in his first at bat in the bottom of the inning, we joined the Coliseum crowd getting louder and louder through three pitches and breaking into a roar as Henderson took off for second and the record books. The catcher’s throw beat him to the bag and we quietly took our seats.
To be a great base stealer, you need more than explosive speed: You need patience, opportunity and timing. Henderson reached on an error to lead off the fourth. Everyone knew he’d run, but Dave Henderson moved the runner up with an infield single and on the next pitch José Canseco hit a fly to right. We pleaded “run Rickey run!” as Harold Baines came up. On the second pitch, Henderson finally took off for third with a few quick strides and dove as the throw arrived. The ump signaled safe.
Safe! It was done and we celebrated. The game stopped and Henderson hoisted third base over his head. Lou Brock said a few words – with class, as always. Henderson took the microphone and pointed out what we already knew. He was now “the greatest of all time.”
In 2009, Henderson joined Brock on the Hall of Fame roster.
It was a beautiful day and I had a great time with friends taking in a nice win for Oakland. But because I was lucky enough to see baseball history being made, it’s a day I’ll never forget. And it’ll come to life for me and countless others when we see the gloves Rickey Henderson used to grab third base in the One for the Books exhibit at the Hall of Fame. The exhibit opens May 28 in Cooperstown.
Lenny DiFranza is the assistant curator of new media at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.