Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This is Rickey, calling on behalf of Rickey

This is a little late by blogging standards, but I was celebrating Rickey Henderson's, a Bokolis favorite, election to the Hall of Fame.

The man's stats put him in lofty company...and, sometimes, without company. Note 50% more stolen bases than the number two guy.

If you back out IBB, he'd have the most walks.

Above all, he's also the leader in runs scored, which is the most direct means to the ultimate goal. If you're into the stat-geek category, he's listed as 10th all-time in Runs Created. Now, there are a boatload of methods to compute runs scored, but 7 of the 9 guys ahead of him are slugging royalty and the two that aren't are Ty Cobb and Pete Rose.

Strangely, the same school that devised the Runs Created stat above also purports that it's not worth trying to steal bases unless you're successful 90% of the time. Those stats can't fathom the pressure put on the other team by giving them more reason to worry...the pressure of holding him on, the pressure of repeatedly throwing over, that much more for the manager and catcher to consider when calling the game, the catcher's fear of firing the ball into the outfield, the middle infielders worrying about cheating to cover the bag, the holes the positioning opens, the pitcher's lapse of concentration on the batter.

It looks easy enough on TV that everybody takes all that for granted. None of that mattered to me when I grew up watching him play. I saw someone press the game like I had never seen. Yes, a non-pitcher can dominate a baseball game.

That's how I wanted to play. I loved it when I would piss off the other team by stealing 2nd and 3rd on consecutive pitches. Hey, I was a fast muthafucka when I was a kid. Even as a somewhat burly adult, I could still steal bases. I never had a quick first step, so the Rickey method of studying and reading the pitcher's tells so as to time the jump worked wonders for me.

Of course, as can be gleaned from the title of this post, Rickey was a character on a par with his abilities. Rickey was a bad muthafucka and didn't have a problem telling you as much. In fact, most people who hadn't come of age by 1993 probably remember Rickey more for his babbling and semi-coherent one-liners than for his game. Speaking in the third person is another thing Bokolis picked up from Rickey...and I do it in real life, no bullshit.

He has his own brand of gang signs. There was a day game a few years back, against the Giants in Frisco, where Rickey was in the stands to watch José Reyes, whom Rickey had taken under the wing. Reyes got on and motioned towards Rickey, indicating that he was going to steal second for Rickey. Rickey, in shades, nodded seeming approval, but with that air of, yiuh, but'chew still ain't as good as me, muthafucka. Reyes proceeded to steal second, and double-pointed back toward Rickey as if to dedicate the swipe. Rickey responded by flashing some indiscriminate gang signs...savage.

A well known story is one where, a year later, he was at another Giants game (I'm pretty sure it was also against the Mets because I was wondering where he was) and snagged himself a foul ball. The saps around him started clamoring for Rickey to give the ball to a nearby kid. Rickey, claiming it was his first foul ball, wasn't giving up the ball. People started razzing him, so he offered to autograph a ball for the kid. The kid took the autographed ball and threw it on the field in spite, to which the crowd gave a rousing cheer...bunch of punks. Fuck that kid.

The only story I can personally relate is from one time, in 2000, when I was sitting in the left field stands at Shea Stadium. Despite a strong '99 season, the Mets fans soured on Rickey. For starters, the team returned to the clubhouse after being eliminated from the NLCS to find Rickey playing cards (and, probably, drinking beers) with Bobby Bonilla.

Further, Rickey had a habit of procuring shit contracts for himself, having a strong first year, then attempting to renegotiate, getting pissed when they wouldn't rip up his shit deal, and sulking his way to a pedestrian season. His dealings with the Mets were no different. Pissed that he didn't get a new deal, he played like crap to start 2000, pissing and moaning all the while, until the Mets released him.

He got in a few games before they cut him loose. I was on hand for one, having copped some 3rd row seats (season ticket holders are quick to give up tickets to early season games, mainly because it is, errrr...was colder than a witch's tit in April at Shea). Rickey had done and said a lot of shit to alienate the fans and his play wasn't helping. The fans around me were fucking with him, yelling all sorts of shit out at him. I mean, they wouldn't fuck with visiting players like they were fucking with Rickey. Rickey took it all in stride, flashing his ring finger and yelling back, "Hall of Fame!"

Hall of Fame indeed, Rickey. Savor the flavor.

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