- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rickey Henderson will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday because he was nearly an entire baseball team rolled into one 5-foot-10 frame. } He was the greatest opener of all time - 81 leadoff home runs. } He was the greatest pitcher’s headache of all time - 1,406 stolen bases. } He stepped on home plate more than anyone else in the history of the game - 2,295 runs scored. } You really could make the case that he was the greatest player of his time. It’s hard to believe that Rickey Henderson won only one MVP award. } “If you could split him in two, you’d have two Hall of Famers,” baseball statistician Bill James once said. } Rickey will be center stage at Cooperstown, where he will be inducted with Red Sox slugger Jim Rice and, posthumously, the great Yankees and Indians second baseman, Joe Gordon.

All richly deserve the honor.

Rickey’s speech promises to be the most entertaining part of the ceremony. All Rickey would have to do to make the induction memorable is simply repeat some of the stories that made Rickey - born on Christmas Day in 1958 - such a legendary character in his 25-year career.

When Rickey was with the Padres in 1996, the story goes, he got on the team bus and looked for a seat. Steve Finley said, “You have tenure; sit wherever you want.” Henderson answered, “Ten years? Rickey’s been playing at least 16, 17 years.”

Another tale: Rickey was looking to sign with the Padres, so he called general manager Kevin Towers and left this message: “This is Rickey calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball.”

Rickey supposedly was asked by a writer if he talked to himself. “Do I talk to myself?” Rickey said. “No, I just remind myself of what I’m trying to do. You know, I never answer myself, so how can I be talking to myself?”

And then there’s this one - very relevant to Sunday’s ceremonies. Rickey once was asked if he believed Ken Caminiti’s estimate that 50 percent of players used steroids was accurate.

“Well, Rickey’s not one of them,” he replied, “so that’s 49 percent right there.”

I hope not.

Rickey belonged to those ground-zero Oakland steroid teams of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. He hit with more power than any other leadoff hitter in history. And he managed to keep his body strong and healthy enough to play for 25 years.

But his name, as far as I can determine, never surfaced in any investigation into the use of illegal and banned performance-enhancing substances. I am going to give Rickey the benefit of the doubt that Rickey was indeed Rickey and not Rickey enhanced.

The Hall is getting closer and closer to facing an entire class of candidates tied to steroids - players who certainly won’t get the same benefit of the doubt as Rickey.

McGwire was the first such player to appear on the ballot, and he was soundly rejected by the voters - sports writers, including myself. Other, more difficult choices soon will come along. In 2013, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa all become eligible.

Voters are struggling to cope with the issues of steroids and eligibility. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander asked the baseball writers association at its national meeting at the All-Star Game to form a committee to create guidelines for evaluating players from the steroid era. The proposal was turned down in a 35-30 vote.

Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson made it clear that the Hall has no plans to change its criteria for induction.

I have no problem with the system the way it is set up. The Hall has established six criteria for election to Cooperstown: a player’s “record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

It’s clear to me where cheating falls among the integrity, sportsmanship and character categories.

Critics argue that there will be a dearth of candidates for induction if all the cheaters of the steroids era are kept out of Cooperstown. But the absence of the steroid users will open the door for more worthy candidates - such as Andre Dawson and Dale Murphy, both of whom should be in Cooperstown, and the great player who will take his place with Rickey on Sunday, Jim Rice.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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