Every player longs for that dream season. The one where they stay healthy and just produce. I’m going to crunch the numbers and create dream seasons for notable 1980s stars. This time I’ll take a look at Rickey Henderson.
By 1988, Rickey was well established as the premier base stealer of the time, if not ever. A member of the New York Yankees, Rickey started the season off well, hitting .362 with 23 runs scored and 23 stolen bases in 23 games.
He enjoyed his best game of the month on one of the Yankees’ worst, going 5-5 with 4 stolen bases and 4 runs scored in a 17-9 loss to Toronto on April 11th.
Nineteen-Eighty-Two was when Rickey took base stealing to another level and I certainly could have used many months from that amazing year to fill his dream season but I wanted to limit myself as much as possible. Having said that, Rickey’s May was pretty impressive.
He hit .304 and swiped 27 bases in 32 attempts. He also drew 27 walks to post an on-base percentage of .443. He had eight games in which he stole two or more bases, including a 4-steal effort against the Tigers in the second game of a doubleheader on May 30th. Those four bags gave him 49 on the season in 49 games, en route to setting a new single-season record with 130.
In his biography, Confessions of a Thief, Rickey said that when he went to the Yankees in 1985 he didn’t need to run as much and began to focus more on power. For Rickey, not focusing on stolen bases meant he’d only swipe 22 bags in 23 attempts. True to his word, he also hit 6 homers and drove in 17 runs.
He began the month by going 10-18 in the first four games and then cooled off, but only slightly. He played in 27 games and recorded at least one hit in 23 of them, good for a .416 batting average for the month with 31 runs scored, as part of a potent Yankee lineup that also included Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and Don Baylor.
The highlight of the month for Rickey came on June 17th. The Yankees team bus was pulled over for speeding on the way to the ballpark in Baltimore, but the officer let them off with a warning after Ron Guidry offered a signed baseball. Once at the ballpark, Rickey turned in the first five-hit game of his career and also drew a walk in a 10-0 win.
Things got so bad for the Orioles that Earl Weaver, coaxed out of retirement, yelled, “Are you ever going to make an out?”
Rickey just laughed.
Rickey didn’t hit for as high an average in July of 1983 as he did in June of ’85, but he did record the 2nd best stolen base month of his career.
After being thrown out stealing in his only attempt on June 30th, Rickey reeled off 14 straight steals without being caught until Rick Dempsey finally got him on July 11th. He stole three or more bases 5 times and ended the month with 33 in 34 attempts.
Oakland skipper Steve Boros summed things up succinctly, saying, “With Rickey’s speed, anything is possible.”
Rickey didn’t slow down in August of 1983. After batting .327 in July, he hit a remarkable .390 in August with a homer and 9 RBI.
He had four different 3-hit games and two games in which he stole 4 bases. He was at peak Rickey during a two-game series against the Yankees when he went 6-10 with 5 stolen bases in an Oakland sweep. He began to step up his base stealing when the team went into a slump.
“I felt I had to do something,” said Rickey. “I had to make things happen. If I have the opportunity, I’m going for it.”
“He’s a one-man show,” said his former manager Billy Martin. “You really can’t stop him.”
1980 was Rickey Henderson’s first full season in the big leagues and while many young players slow down at the end of their first year, Rickey stepped up his game.
Three months shy of his 22nd birthday, Rickey hit .297 and scored 26 runs in 31 games. That’s impressive but not as impressive as the fact that he stole 34 bases, including a string of 13 bases in 13 attempts over nine games.
Rickey ran wild in the final month of the 1980 season. He stole bases in 21 of the 31 games in which he played and had two different 4 stolen base games, one against Kansas City and one against Milwaukee.
“Stealing is an art to me,” Rickey told UPI. “I’ve stolen 80-90 bases everywhere I’ve been. I’d like to break (Lou Brock’s) all-time record (118 in a season) and I think I can. So does Brock. He saw me steal some bases in Boston and he told me the next person to break the record would be me.”
Turns out they were right. Rickey would steal 130 bags in 1982.
If you add up all of Rickey’s best months and put them into one season it becomes a player you’d pay top dollar for at the leadoff spot. In Rickey Henderson’s dream season, he hits .348 with 16 homers and 79 RBI. Any team would take that without a single stolen base, but when you add in the 163 bags and 149 runs scored he’s an absolute juggernaut.