Rickey Henderson goes into the Baseball Hall of Fame as an Oakland Athletic, and rightly so. While Henderson moved around frequently throughout his career, the majority of his years were spent in Oakland, and it was in an A's uniform that Rickey accomplished his greatest feats and garnered the most recognition.
But at the Pinstripe Report it is always remembered that Rickey Henderson, for four and a half years, was also a Yankee. And although his stay was altogether too brief, the MLB all-time leader in steals left his mark in the Bronx, astonishingly still reigning as the all-time Yankees leader in steals 20 years after he played his last game in pinstripes.
When Rickey came to the Yankees in 1985, they were a team mired in mediocrity. Four years removed from their last World Series appearance — a loss to the LA Dodgers — and coming off of a third place finish in 1984, the Yankees added Henderson to a powerful lineup that already included Willie Randolph, Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield, Don Baylor, and Ken Griffey. But while the Yankees would finish second in Rickey's first two seasons with the club they would fall to fourth in his third season and fifth in his fourth year before being traded in 1989, precipitating a period of decline for the Yanks that would last until 1994.
While the signing of Henderson did not propel New York back into the World Series as owner George Steinbrenner had hoped it would, Rickey was anything but a disappointment as a Yankee. As previously noted, Henderson is the all-time leader in steals for the Yanks with 326 swipes in 596 games. His closest competition is Derek Jeter with his 293 steals in … 2,077 games! Although the Yankees have never been known as a team built on speed, it is incredible that Rickey — in such a short stint with the club — stands ahead of solid base thieves like Jeter, Randolph, and Roy White.
When he was healthy, Rickey also contributed greatly with his bat. A four-time All-Star with the club, Henderson led the league in runs scored twice, stolen bases three times, and in 1985 and 1986 put up two of his best seasons power-wise, knocking out 24 and 28 home runs respectively, the latter figure a career high. His 1985 season is especially notable as he hit .314/24/72 and .419/.516/.934 with 80 steals and 146 runs scored (both leading the league) for one of the best seasons of his career (third in the MVP voting behind teammate Mattingly and George Brett).
But unfortunately for Rickey's Yankee legacy, the tarnish of controversy is the overriding remembrance of his time in New York. From the firing of Henderson's mentor (and manager with Oakland and New York) Billy Martin to the infamous, media-frenzied hamstring fiasco of 1987, Rickey's accomplishments on the field have long been overshadowed by his friction with the team (specifically Martin's replacement Lou Piniella) and the club's inability to the beat the Blue Jays and win a championship.
Henderson himself expressed regret over how his stay in the Bronx played out, stating last Tuesday at his press conference, "Billy Martin brought me to the Yankees — he always said I should've been a Yankee star — and I do have regret that when I was there we had a great team that somehow never could get by Toronto. I was never able to overcome everything about that hamstring injury."
Henderson will never have a plaque in monument park nor will his #24 enter the pantheon of retired Yankee numbers. His run with New York will always represent unfilled potential, but in a way this is unfortunate. Henderson's years in pinstripes were part of his legacy and it should be remembered for its quality in a rough time for the franchise, especially while everyone is celebrating his career and induction. When one scans the all-time statistical leaders in Yankees history, one finds immediately that nearly all are headed by men whose likenesses now reside on the great marble walls inside of Baseball's Hall of Fame.
With Henderson's induction, that is now true for the Yankees' all-time stolen base leader as well.