Three Strikes: Rickey Being Rickey Edition

January, 14, 2009
1/14/09
1:22
PM ET
I'm not sure what it is about the Hall of Fame election that brings out the best in all you loyal Useless Infomaniacs. But thanks to your fabulous Rickey Henderson contributions over the past couple of days, it's time for a fun new burst of Rickey material:


STRIKE ONE -- NOT YOUR AVERAGE RICKEY DEPT: The true measure of any record is how it stacks up against the numbers that surround it. And that just might make Rickey Henderson's stolen-base record the most amazing record in the history of records.



Lee Sinins, creator of the indispensable Complete Baseball Encyclopedia (still the greatest invention since the microwave), checked in with this gem:


Henderson, as you know, stole 1,406 bases in his career. Here's what you don't know: The league-average player, in that same time span, stole 214.


OK, think about that. Rickey Henderson stole nearly 1,200 more bases in his career than the average major league players of his generation. Yep, 1,200.


Here's what that means:


It's astounding enough that no other player in history approaches his record itself. But it might be more mind-blowing that no other player in history is even within 250 steals of the DIFFERENCE between that record and the numbers of a league-average player in the same period.


Want to see how this gap compares with the other storied all-time career records? I did that math:



Rickey's SB Record
CATEGORY PLAYER RECORD AVG. DIFF. PCT. ABOVE AVG.
SB Rickey Henderson 1,406 214 1,192 557
HR Barry Bonds 762 266 496 186
SAVES Trevor Hoffman 554 207 347 168
STRIKEOUTS Nolan Ryan 5,714 3,178 2,536 80
RBIs Hank Aaron 2,297 1,380 917 66
RUNS Rickey Henderson 2,295 1,475 820 56
AVG. Ty Cobb .366 .272 .094 35
WINS Cy Young 511 410 101 25
HITS Pete Rose 4,256 3,493 817 24


So what does that chart tell you? It tells you, for one thing, that Cy Young's career-wins record and Pete Rose's hits record may be staggering -- but they're also overrated.


If an average player had stuck around as long as Rose, he would have racked up more than 3,400 hits. The average pitcher of Young's time would have won more than 400 games given the same career length. That says those records were almost as much about staying power as talent .


And what else does that chart tell you? That Rickey Henderson was far more than a guy who piled up stats through sheer longevity. He was so vastly superior to his generation in the things he did best, you could make a case he was one of the most underrated players of all time.


Uh, not by himself, of course.


STRIKE TWO -- PICK A CAP, ANY CAP, DEPT: How hard is it to remember now that Rickey Henderson was once a Mariner? Or a Dodger? Or an Angel?


This guy shouldn't just have a Hall of Fame plaque. He should have his own Hall of Fame map. He didn't play for 12 teams, but he did CHANGE teams 12 times (thanks to those four different stays in Oakland). And how often does any Hall of Famer do that?


Good question. It inspired loyal reader Chris Isidore to toss out two tremendous Rickey questions:


1. Is he the only Hall of Famer to play for nine teams?


2. Is there any chance that, someday, Henderson could set a record for most Hall of Fame teammates by a Hall of Famer?


Well, I can answer that first question, thanks to the assistance of the Elias Sports Bureau. The record holder in that prestigious category, Hall of Famer Who Played for the Most Teams, isn't Rickey.


It's (who else?) the inimitable Dan Brouthers, who played for 11 teams in three different leagues (National League, Players League, American Association) between 1879 and 1904. (Videotape highlights and photo cap montages not currently available.)


But Rickey IS tied for second. The funny thing is, though, he's the first Hall of Famer to have played for nine teams since, well, LAST year. Yup, Goose Gossage also played for nine. The other nine-teamer: Hoyt Wilhelm.


As for the second question, Isidore's count puts Mel Ott in the lead, with 19 Hall of Fame teammates, and Babe Ruth second, with 16.


But Henderson already has six -- in Dave Winfield, Gossage, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan, Eddie Murray and Tony Gwynn. And Rickey played with a group that includes A-Rod, Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Mike Piazza, Trevor Hoffman, Fred McGriff, Edgar Martinez and Mark McGwire. Among others.


So this is where you come in. Anybody want to figure out which Hall of Famer had the most HOF teammates, and project which modern player might be able to challenge that record?


Operators are standing by. Send it along to uselessinfodept@yahoo.com.


STRIKE THREE -- STILL MORE RICKEYNESS DEPT: Finally, a couple of other fun, quick hits by our readers:


• Since we're big today on gaps between records and the rest of the pack, thanks to loyal reader Dennis Haley for pointing this one out:


Henderson hit 81 leadoff homers. That's the major league record.


Craig Biggio is second on that list, with 53 leadoff shots.


So, by a tremendous coincidence, Rickey's record is 53 percent more than the 53 homers that WOULD be the record if he'd never played baseball. Cool.


• And, finally, a brilliant observation by loyal reader Allen Lee: "Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of Henderson's career is the 3,000-plus hits. For many players in that club, 3,000 hits is likely their crowning achievement. In Henderson's case, he accomplished so much that 3,000 hits is maybe fifth place on his list."

Great point. In fact, in all the ESPN talk of Rickey's credentials this week, I can't remember anybody even making a big deal out of those 3,000 hits. And that NEVER happens.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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