- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 13, 2009

NEW YORK | Rickey Henderson sped his way into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot Monday, and Jim Rice made it in on his 15th and final try.

Henderson, baseball’s career leader in runs scored and stolen bases, received 94.8 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, well above the 75 percent needed.

Rice, among baseball’s most feared hitters in the late 1970s and early 1980s, got 76.4 percent of the vote after falling just shy with 72.2 percent last year.

“The only thing I can say is I’m glad it’s over with,” Rice said. “I’m in there, and they can’t take it away.”

The undisputed standard for leadoff hitters, Henderson became the 44th player elected in his first year of eligibility. Rice was only the third elected by the BBWAA in his final year, joining Red Ruffing (1967) and Ralph Kiner (1975).

The pair will be inducted to the Hall during ceremonies July 26 in Cooperstown, N.Y. They will be joined by former Yankees and Indians second baseman Joe Gordon, elected posthumously last month by the Veterans Committee.

“I feel great about it. It’s been a long time coming,” said Henderson, who wanted to be a football star before excelling in pro baseball. “I was nervous, waiting.”

Henderson spoke on a conference call before boarding a flight to New York. He was rushing right along, even on this day.

Only fitting.

Next up, his highly anticipated induction speech. Henderson has always had a unique way with words.

“It’s really just an honor to me. I’m really just spaced out,” he said. “I haven’t really thought about what I’m going to say.”

Rice knows exactly how he will approach his speech.

“Believe me, it’s going to be short and quick. I don’t think you need to go there and talk for 15 or 20 minutes when you can get right to the point,” he said. “I’m going to leave all the stories to Rickey.”

Henderson was picked on 511 of 539 ballots, and Rice was selected on 412, just above the 405 needed.

Rice received only 29.8 percent of the vote in 1995, when he appeared on the ballot for the first time. He initially topped 50 percent in 2000 and reached 64.8 percent in 2006 — the highest percentage for a player who wasn’t elected in a later year was 63.4 by Gil Hodges in 1983, his final time on the ballot.

Some thought Rice’s prickly personality and curt relationship with reporters during his playing career helped keep him out of the Hall all these years.

“I don’t think I was difficult to deal with for writers. I think the writers were difficult to me,” he said. “I wasn’t going to badmouth my teammates. When you start talking about my teammates or what goes on outside baseball, I couldn’t do that.

“I don’t know why it took me so long. I don’t even want to think about it,” he added. “I’m just happy I’m in, and that’s what I’m going to cherish.”

What did he learn all these years?

“Be patient and wait to the last out,” Rice said. “I guess everything was just timing because my numbers have not changed over the last 14 years.”

Andre Dawson fell 44 votes short with 67 percent. He was followed by Bert Blyleven (62.7 percent), Lee Smith (44.5), Jack Morris (44.0), Tommy John (31.7) and Tim Raines (22.6). John appeared on the ballot for the final time.

Mark McGwire, stigmatized by accusations he used performance-enhancing drugs, received 118 votes (21.9 percent) in his third year of eligibility, down from the 128 votes he got in each of his first two tries.

Henderson, who played with McGwire in Oakland, said the slugger was one of the best people he has been around.

“He played the game the right way to me,” Henderson said. “I feel he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.”

Henderson was with his family when he got the call Monday and pointed out that they have been with him through “all the glory and the headaches.”

“They enjoyed it probably as much as I enjoyed it, probably even more,” he said.

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