I remember in high school when my baseball coach stopped hitting ground balls to us long enough to declare, "Plastic Man is the greatest superhero ever. You cannot kill him." He’s got a point. How exactly do you kill a guy who can bend around bullets, flatten himself into a pancake to avoid an oncoming car, or move his body perfectly to accommodate an attempted stabbing? That’s impressive. At worst, he’s really tough to put down. At best, as Coach Stevens said, you cannot kill him.
Plastic Man has nothing on Rickey Henderson.
The man who, if he didn’t invent 3rd person self-referencing certainly elevated it to an art form**, has decided he hasn’t quite used up all the baseball he’s got inside. Judging by his last stint with the Dodgers in ’03 when Rickey hit .203 with a very un-Rickeylike .321 OBP (still better than half the White Sox), we won’t be seeing him in a big league uniform anytime soon. But with over 10,000 ABs, 3,055 hits, 1,406 SBs, 2,190 BBs and a career .401 OPB, Rickey Henderson has returned to the independent Golden Baseball League to play for the San Diego Surf Dawgs. At age 2,983, Rickey Henderson still believes he’s got some baseball left in him.
How long has the dude been around? His home games will be at Tony Gwynn Field at Sand Diego State. Yes, named after the Tony Gwynn, who is two years younger and has been out of the league two years longer than Rickey. Rickey’s agent says that Rickey believes that Rickey can still help a major league club. But Brian says that Rickey, in his heart, doesn’t care if he makes it back to the bigs. Brian thinks that Rickey just likes playing baseball.
He’s like the guys I play with in my weekend men’s league. None of us want to hang it up for good. Which is totally fine by me. Why wouldn’t you want a guy in the league who:
-slid into home plate to break Ty Cobb’s all time runs record- after hitting a home run
-claimed he wasn’t being greedy in contract negotiations by saying, ""All I’m asking for is what I want."
-refuted claims that he talks to himself on the field (a trait for which he is famous) with this one: "Do I talk to myself? No. I just remind myself of what I’m trying to do," he says. "You know, I never answer myself. So how can I be talking to myself?"
-so fully inhabits planet Rickey that the story about how he once told John Olerud that he used to have a teammate who also wore a helmet in the field (that was Olerud) seems TOTALLY believable, even though apparently, it’s not actually true.
The dude is the stuff of urban legend. The baseball equivalent of the guy with the hook that rips through your convertible top while you making out with your girlfriend at Lover’s Point. It usually bothers me when athletes hang on for too long, when they can’t find something to move to when the playing days are over. But for whatever reason, with Rickey it doesn’t bother me at all. The guy could keep playing independent league ball for the next 2000 years and I wouldn’t care. I feel bad for him, because a) you actually have to stop playing to get into the HOF, and b) a whole generation of people will grow up knowing Rickey Henderson as an old dude who was more sideshow than perhaps the best player of the 1980s.
But as long as Rickey wants to play, Rickey should play. As he once said, explaining that it wasn’t the record books that keep him coming back, just a desire to keep playing, "No matter what, I’m going to try to go 1 more."
Aren’t we all?
**"Listen: People are always saying, ‘Rickey says Rickey.’ But it’s been blown way out of proportion. People might catch me, when they know I’m ticked off, saying, ‘Rickey, what the heck are you doing, Rickey?’ They say, ‘Darn, Rickey, what are you saying Rickey for? Why don’t you just say, ‘I?’ But I never did. I always said, ‘Rickey,’ and it become something for people to joke about."