Dream Season: Rickey Henderson

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.

March/April 1988

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.

May 1982

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.

June 1985

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.

July 1983

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.”

August 1983

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.”

 

September/October 1980

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.

The Totals:

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.

Month Year AB Hits Avg HR RBI Runs SB
Mar/

Apr

’88 94 34 .362 3 14 23 20
May ’82 102 31 .304 3 16 26 27
June ’85 113 47 .416 6 17 31 22
July ’83 113 37 .327 2 8 27 33
Aug ’83 82 32 .390 1 9 16 27
Sept./Oct. ’80 111 33 .297 1 10 26 34
Total 615 214 .348 16 74 149 163

 

 

John Wathan and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad May

A great month can make a season.

In July of 1980, George Brett hit an amazing .494, en route to leading the major leagues with a .390 batting average. Likewise, some players perform exceptionally well against certain teams. Over his career, Babe Ruth slugged .744 against the Detroit Tigers. Ted Williams hit .374 against Orioles and Ty Cobb hit .381 vs. Philadelphia A’s.

But the opposite is also true. Try as they might, certain players struggle against certain teams. Such was the case for Kansas City Royals catcher John Wathan against the Oakland A’s in 1980 and the month of May was especially brutal.

Royals catcher John Wathan
Royals catcher John Wathan

Oakland manager Billy Martin made a living out of exploiting weakness. After taking over the A’s before the 1980 season he decided to use the stolen base as a weapon and when he spotted a weakness he took full advantage of it.

The carnage began on May 19th, a 6-5 Royals win in Kansas City. Dwayne Murphy, Rickey Henderson and Mitchell Page each stole bases against Wathan, though Page was also gunned down trying to steal 3rd. The next night, the same Oakland trio combined for five stolen bases in five attempts. Billy was onto something. On the 21st, Henderson got two more in two attempts. In the four game set, Oakland stole 10 bases in 12 attempts.

Rickey Henderson
The thing John Wathan’s nightmares are made of

The two teams got together again a week later in Oakland. In game one of the series, the A’s gave Wathan a break. Despite thirteen baserunners, Oakland had zero stolen base attempts. In game two, it was Rickey and Page again, who combined to steal three more. Wathan did get credit for a caught stealing when Wayne Gross was nabbed trying to steal home in the 2nd inning.

In the series finale the following afternoon, the A’s really did some damage.  In the bottom of the first inning, singles by Murphy and Page put runners on the corners with one out. With Gross at the plate, Page took off for second while Murphy broke for home seconds later. Wathan’s throw went into center field, allowing Murphy to score and sending Page to 3rd. Then with Gross still at the plate, a Rich Gale pitch got past Wathan, which allowed Page to score.

Later in the inning with Gross on 3rd and Jeff Newman on first, Martin reached into his bag of tricks. Newman took a big lead off first and then “fell down” drawing a throw from Wathan. This gave Gross the opportunity to steal home, while Newman got up and ran to second for the 4th stolen base of the inning.

“It worked to perfection,” Martin said. “Gross’ timing coming home was sensational.”

Newman was especially proud of his performance, telling the media, “I get the best supporting actor award.”

Wathan exacted some revenge by gunning down Henderson trying to steal second in the next inning, but Billy and the A’s weren’t through with him yet. They would steal three more bases in the game, running their total to an amazing 20.

In fairness to Wathan, there were double steals and steals of home mixed into the total. He even stole two bases himself while hitting .345 with a home run against the A’s, but the stat line is ugly.

In one month, the Oakland A’s stole 20 bases in 24 attempts against Wathan, who also committed two throwing errors and a passed ball, which made for one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad May.