What a show
If you ever forget how much you love baseball, come to Cooperstown — especially for an induction weekend.
We all love the actual baseball season. But this is a great change of pace from that hustle and bustle, albeit just for a couple of days.
I’ve been covering baseball on a full-time basis since 1997, but this weekend reminded me of what it was like to be a full-time fan in the 1980s, when I marveled at Rickey Henderson’s speed, his gaudy athleticism, his showmanship, and Jim Rice’s raw strength and power and that pure swing.
It was a joy being around these two guys the last couple of days and listening to them recall their careers.
I didn’t know that Jim Rice could have taken a full ride to play college football at Nebraska, but he talked quite a bit about that this weekend.
And Rickey — the utter fascination of Rickey.
I think the one bittersweet thing about the weekend for Rickey is that Billy Martin, his late manager with both Oakland and New York, wasn’t around to see this.
“My relationship with Billy Martin – he was like a father figure. I think Billy took me as sort of like his son,” Henderson said. “Billy figured I was the type of player who would run down a wall or break down some bricks because I loved the game. He saw the inner side of me. He was that type of player. he always felt I went out to win each and every day and I was a winner.”
I loved the story Rickey told during his speech about being a boy and trying to get Reggie Jackson’s autograph. Instead of giving Rickey an autograph, Reggie would give him a pen that said “Reggie Jackson” on it. Reggie, seated on the stage behind Rickey, nearly fell off the stage laughing at that recollection
“I didn’t get his autograph after the ceremony but he’s looking for my autograph. I’m just waiting for that moment,” joked Rickey. “Eventually I got Reggie Jackson’s autograph. I had to go out and prove myself to get his autograph. I think the time I stole 130 bases, the next year he was running to get my autograph and I told him, ‘I can’t give you my autograph this time because I never had your autograph.”‘
Rickey — who played for the Yankees and Mets — on the New York fans?
“New York fans, I always said they know the game of baseball and they know when you go out and play the game hard or when you go out and you’re not playing at all, or when you go out, as they always say, you’re faking or you’re jaking or you just don’t want to play. I think that’s the difference. Being in New York, in the spotlight, that excited me. I always wanted to take the challenge of the greatest organization and the greatest team in baseball. It was a challenge to me. I enjoyed every bit of it.”
And, as Rickey recalls — perhaps erroneously — he actually never did refer to himself as “Rickey”.
“I don’t think I ever called myself Rickey. I’m trying to think about where their lingo kept rising and rising. People said, I’m going to call myself Rickey. I think in baseball, and on a baseball field, we talk about a lot of different stuff. We talk about a lot of different stuff. We talk about different terms and stuff like that. It got out to the media and they just ran with it. You’d probably never hear me say Rickey. That’s not how I speak or talk about it. I speak fast, I talk fast, but I’m not going to see Rickey did this or that. In baseball, you see players talk about you talking to your bats, you’re mumbling, you’re talking about something. That was the way I would go out and concentrate and make me realize what I had to do,” said Rickey.
One thing you can be quite sure of — there will never be another Rickey.
I must say that at the end of the 2002 season, my first year on the Red Sox beat, I walked up to Rickey and shook his hand and said, “I just wanted to let you know it was an honor to cover you.”
I never said that to any player before or since. That’s just Rickey.
Anyway, back to Fenway tomorrow for some Red Sox-A’s. I hope all of you aren’t panicking about the ongoing slump of the offense. This, too, shall pass.