Posted at 12:19 PM on August 12, 2005
by David Zingler
Remember back in the 1980s and early 90s when Rickey Henderson was reviled for being a "hot dog", making snatch catches and talking about himself in the third person? In light of Terrell Owens' latest episode, that seems pretty tame, even quaint. When Baltimore was in town a few weeks back, I had a chance to discuss the always interesting Rickey with his first pro manager, Tom Trebelhorn, who is currently a member of the Orioles coaching staff.
Trebelhorn, who managed Rickey in 1976 and 1977, had a unique perspective on the controversial future Hall of Famer.
"He was a man physically, very much the physical specimen he was during his prime in the big leagues. (He was) very strong, (had) a terrific body, terrific legs. Probably his only short-coming was his throwing arm, he had a below average throwing arm from leftfield. I played him in centerfield quite a bit, but he had a below average leftfield arm. We worked real hard to use his speed to get him to the balls quickly to stop runner from advancing be getting to the balls quicker and having to make a shorter throw and also to intimidate coaches into stopping runners by getting the balls quickly and looking like he could throw. He was the complete package other than his throwing arm, which he worked hard to improve."
"He had the best idea of the strike zone at 17 years of age of anybody I've had anywhere - that's (Paul) Molitor, (Robin) Yount, Cecil Cooper, Ryne Sandberg, Sammy Sosa. (Henderson) walked, he did not swing at bad pitches. That same ability carried him to the all time record in base on balls, runs scored, stolen bases. He was a terrific player at 17 and at 18, the next year at Modesto in the California League, he was a man and from there he was in the big leagues in a couple of years at 20 and he's still playing somewhere I'm sure."
"It's the law of physics, he can run from A to B faster than (anyone). We just worked on leads, how to get back, having the confidence to run and not being afraid to run - just simple stuff that allowed him to go. I let him run, that was it. He could run, he was going to be a good base stealer, a good player - I let him play. The things we worked on were fairly routine, but he was a great student. He came early, he listened, he wanted to do well, to get to the big leagues and be a great player. He had his mind set on breaking the stolen base records. He stole 96 bases in his first full season in the California League at age 18. At that time there were a lot of older players in the California League."
"I never had any problems with him. He was always a very unique player - having personality, being different, and being hard to dealing with at times - I think those things can be attributed to every special individual, whether you are talking about surgeon or an NBA player or a CEO - there's always something that makes them different - I've seen a lot of nice guys hit .220, they were great interviews you know, wonderful with the press, but they still hit .220."
"I think if you have the ability and you perform in a fashion that bothers the other team and you can back it up, I don't think that's cocky, I think that's style. He always had his own unique style and he could back his style up by the way he played. He talked to himself in the batter's box even then reminding himself, 'I don't swing at bad pitches' and had all of the same mannerisms that infuriated people later on because they thought he was a cocky guy. I don't thing there is anything wrong with style, you never coach style out of a player, you try to harness it so it becomes a positive and not a negative - if a guy on the other side bothers you, it's for a reason and it's not because of his cockiness, it's because he can perform. He's been a bothersome player every year that he's played and I think that when you are that way, you're style should be allowed to be your own style."
Still playing Independent Ball
"If a guy wants to keep playing and that's where he can play, what the heck. I'm sure knowing Rickey, he doesn't need the money. He always did very, very well with his money; he was as smart with his money as he was running the bases. He wants to keep playing ball, and I think he still wants to get back in the big leagues."
"The amazing thing about (Rickey), the wear and tear on his body, stealing the number of bases he stole and on top of that, every time he would get on base,
they would throw over three, four and five times - he probably hit the ground 5,000 times in his career."
"The stolen base really identified Rickey - that was his thing - but I really think, if he would have run a little less, you would have seen more hits because (stealing bases) had to tire him out. From his first day in the big leagues to his last day in the big leagues, he was running - I honestly think he would have hit a few more homers and had a higher average if he had run a little less."
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
simply the most underated & underappreciated player in the history of professional sport.the fact that people, pundits & prognosticators alike even have the audacity to question if he is a 1st ballot hofamer is downright blasphomy. they should have their mics & pens revoked.in a sport that stands alone in its importance of records Never has 1 dominated in so many different areas, for so many different years.yet these #s are overshadowed by his personality, shows peoples unhealthy obsession with percieved cockiness.then why wasnt ali questioned in his sport the way henderson is in his?.the irony is that this undisciplened loose cannon so to speak is arguably the most disciplined & cerebral hitter in the history of the game.forget about power hitters who get free passes & intentional walks for fear of their bats.if u took a pole of coaches & pitchers throughout the 80s & asked them what do u fear more mike schmidt batting with bases loaded & no outs. or walking rickey henderson to start a game, dont bet on the former.the last thing coaches, pitchers & catchers alike wanted to c was henderson walk.so the fact that he was the all time leader in walks, while earning every single 1 of them the hard way, unintentionally, may be the most mindboggling stat in a game comprised of stats.
There are Hall of Fame players and then there are those that are simply the best. Why are they the best? They are the best because they are the players that can change a game just by their presence in the field. For Rickey, it was when he was on base. He could intimate a pitcher into making mistakes that often meant runs for the team. For Barry and Babe, it was when they were at the plate. Their intimidation is without mention. For Barry, it meant extra walks and better pitchers for those batting behind him. For Cy Young, it was when he was on the mound. By their mere presence, they changed the game situation.