Thursday, May 16, 2013
A's get insight from Hall of Famer Henderson
(Eds: Updates with details, quotes. With AP Photos.)
By JANIE McCAULEY
AP Baseball Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Rickey Henderson bounced through the Oakland clubhouse from one player to the next, one corner to the other, with a stop at the breakfast table to greet a few more guys before moving on to meet with Daric Barton by his locker.
The high-energy Henderson helped awaken a tired group Wednesday just 11 hours after losing in extra innings to the rival Texas Rangers.
The Hall of Famer sure has been a positive influence in his role as roving instructor for the reigning AL West champions. From offering instruction on the art of baserunning and sliding technique to hitting and even mental approach, Henderson is doing a little bit of everything while back in his old green and gold A's uniform at age 54.
Baseball's career stolen base leader is loving this gig.
"It's just basically about a comfort level, going out there and believing in yourself," Henderson said of enduring the tough stretches. "You're going to go through a little bit of an up and down, keep fighting. The game's always a battle. Make sure that you know who you are and what you're doing, then go out there with that approach and have some fun. They're not worrying about the losing streak. I don't think we ever worried about this losing streak."
With all of his accomplishments in 2½ decades as a major leaguer, Henderson is quick to point to his failures along the way. The A's returned from a rough 3-7 road trip, then lost for the eighth time in 10 games in a 6-2 defeat to Texas on Wednesday.
"He's a Hall of Famer, he was a guy that took ballgames over as a leadoff hitter, power, speed, defense," said Rangers manager Ron Washington, previously a longtime A's third base coach. "When Rickey was on in his day, he caused problems."
Before the series finale with first-place Texas, the animated Henderson waved his right arm as he spoke and accidentally made contact with A.J. Griffin's chest as the pitcher walked by on his way outside.
"Oh, Rickey!" Griffin hollered.
"Oh, Rickey!" copied reliever Ryan Cook.
"Rickey's here!" yelled former catcher turned broadcaster Ray Fosse from a few feet away in the kitchen.
For a fun-loving, loose bunch, Henderson fits in perfectly.
"If those guys over in that clubhouse shut off what Rickey has to say, then something's wrong with them, because when I'm around Rickey, we force him to talk," Washington said. "He gets excited about talking about baseball. We want to hear the stories, and once he gets started, he gets animated and we just love it. That's Rickey, it's always been."
The stumbling A's are determined to get their winning, walkoff whipped-cream pie swagger back in a hurry. They had a day off Thursday before opening a weekend series at home with the Royals on Friday night.
Manager Bob Melvin is eager to change the franchise's long trend of slow starts while maintaining the traditional second-half surges -- and if the energetic Henderson can give these boys a boost, then all the better.
Henderson mentored Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes as a rookie last season, when he made the shift from center field to left.
"We all know that he has so much experience in baseball," Cespedes said. "We all should listen to his advice because we can learn a lot. Last year he was a big help with my baserunning form, and how to do it."
Henderson said he often reaches out to the players first rather than waiting for them to come to him.
"I'm here just to talk and ease their mind, how to get rid of the frustration part," he said. "They put so much pressure on themselves. You've got to relax."
That upbeat attitude resonates with the young A's.
Washington, who left the A's seven years ago to become the Texas manager, credits Henderson's work with Coco Crisp's strides as an aggressive baserunner in the leadoff spot, and even the progress by departed speedster Rajai Davis of the Toronto Blue Jays.
"Look how their base stealing prowess has taken off. Rickey's presence has a lot to do with that, because he was the best at picking pockets, the very best," Washington said. "You knew he was running and you still couldn't stop him.
"And he was never satisfied with just getting to second base. He was always satisfied with one thing: crossing home plate. That's why he got to third so quick, so he could touch home plate. Whether he hit it out of the park, whether he walked, whether he got a base hit, he got to third base. Talent. I love Rickey."
With that constant smile and positive approach, Henderson is a popular presence.
Not to mention the credentials he brings to the job.
A career .279 hitter with 297 home runs and 1,115 RBIs, Henderson holds major league career records for stolen bases (1,406) and runs scored (2,295). He won a World Series with the A's in 1989 and was the 1990 AL MVP. He ended his 25-year big league career with the Dodgers in 2003, then played briefly in the independent Golden Baseball League before retiring for good in 2007.
"He's been a great resource for us. He was a great resource last year for us, the last couple years," Melvin said. "He had a lot to do with Yoenis accepting left field, too, and he talked to him about taking some of the rigors of a long season off your body in left field. Just to have a winner like that around is great, and to have him apply some things and talk to guys, whether it's baserunning or whatever, is a great resource to have. As much as we can have him, we'd love to have him."