- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 26, 2009

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. | Rickey Henderson knew what was expected every time he batted. So did Jim Rice.

“Some way, I was going to scratch to get on base to steal that base,” Henderson said. “I steal that base, my day was good. My pride and joy was coming across the plate.”

Said Rice: “Believe me, I wasn’t paid to walk. I was paid to try to do some damage.”

Each player - Henderson, the quintessential leadoff man with an infectious smile, and Rice, the consummate power hitter with an icy glare - inflicted more than his share of damage on opponents, and they will be recognized for their considerable career accomplishments Sunday when they are inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The pair will be the first inductees to primarily play left field since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski went into the Hall in 1989.

Former Yankees and Indians second baseman Joe Gordon, elected posthumously by the Veterans Committee, also will be inducted. Former Yankees star and longtime broadcaster Tony Kubek and writer Nick Peters will be honored as winners of the Frick and Spink awards.

A member of nine teams during his 25-year career, the fun-loving Henderson achieved more than most. He holds the all-time records for stolen bases in a season (130) and career (1,406), for runs scored (2,295) and for leading off a game with a home run (81).

“Competing against myself - I think that’s what made me the player that I became,” Henderson said. “I had a lot of desire to be a winner and play the game to the fullest.”

Henderson was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the fourth round in 1976. After excelling in the minors for three seasons (at Modesto, in 1977, he led the California League with a then-record 95 steals and became just the fourth professional player to steal seven bases in one game), Henderson made his major league debut with Oakland in late June 1979. He still led the club that season with 33 steals.

When Oakland owner Charlie Finley hired Billy Martin as manager in 1980, Henderson had the perfect partner in crime. “Billyball” - the aggressive attack Martin relished - helped catapult Henderson to stardom.

The speedy Henderson set the American League season steals record with 100 in only his second year, joining Maury Wills and Lou Brock as the only major league players of the modern era to steal 100 or more bases a season.

Henderson quickly evolved into perhaps the most dangerous player in baseball, seemingly always able to make something from nothing. After leading the AL in hits during the strike-shortened 1981 season, the “Man of Steal” used his trademark headfirst slides to break Brock’s single-season steals record with 130 in 1982.

Just the 44th player elected to the Hall in his first year of eligibility, Henderson retired with 2,190 career walks (128 more than Babe Ruth), and although Barry Bonds has since eclipsed that total, Henderson still holds the record for most unintentional walks with 2,129. What is most amazing is that 796 of those free passes - 37 percent - came while leading off an inning, something every opposing pitcher and catcher desperately wanted to avoid.

Hitting homers was second nature to Rice, who played his entire career for the Boston Red Sox. Playing at a time when offensive numbers paled in comparison to the past two decades, the so-called steroid era, Rice batted .298 with 382 home runs and 1,451 RBI from 1974 to 1989. He was named AL MVP in 1978 when he batted .315 with 213 hits, 46 home runs, 139 RBI and a .600 slugging percentage.

His career numbers are just as impressive.

Rice drove in 100 or more runs eight times, batted over .300 seven times, and topped 200 hits four times. And he’s the only player in major league history with at least 35 homers and 200 hits in three consecutive seasons (1977-79).

That it took until his final year of eligibility probably rankled him every time a new class was announced. If there ever was any bitterness, though, it has long since vanished.

“You let bygones be bygones,” the 56-year-old said. “Yeah, I wish I could have gone in on the first ballot or the second, not the last. But I’m in and some guys are still out. You cherish that you’re in an elite category of guys that played the game one way - hard.”

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