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Man of steal: Henderson owned the basepaths

@goodforball
May 15, 2020

Rickey Henderson put the "top" in top of the order. Henderson is the Major Leagues' all-time leader in runs scored (2,295) and stolen bases (1,406). He walloped 81 leadoff homers, another record. He finished among the top 10 in the American League Most Valuable Player Award balloting six times and

Rickey Henderson put the "top" in top of the order.

Henderson is the Major Leagues' all-time leader in runs scored (2,295) and stolen bases (1,406). He walloped 81 leadoff homers, another record. He finished among the top 10 in the American League Most Valuable Player Award balloting six times and won the award in 1990.

Henderson did virtually everything required of a winning ballplayer during his 25 years in the Majors. Here's a look at a mere 10 of his accomplishments.

1. Eclipsing Brock, Part I
Aug. 27, 1982

Henderson, who spent 14 seasons with the A's, erased Lou Brock's single-season mark for steals by pilfering his 119th base in the third inning of Oakland's 5-4 loss at Milwaukee. Henderson secured the record-breaker after coaxing a two-out walk from Brewers starter Doc Medich. Henderson stole three more bases later in the game and ended the year with a total of 130.

2. Eclipsing Brock, Part II
May 1, 1991

Henderson, who already had become synonymous with steals, notched theft No. 939 to wrest the all-time lead from Brock, the longtime Cardinals star. Henderson broke the tie with Brock by stealing third base in the fourth inning off Yankees starter Tim Leary in a 7-4 A's home win. Henderson finished 468 steals ahead of Brock, virtually half of the latter's career total.

3. Swinging the broom
Oct. 14-28, 1989

Henderson embodied the A's dominance in their four-game World Series sweep over the Giants. He batted .474 (9-for-19) with four runs scored, a double, two triples, a homer and three stolen bases. Henderson warmed up for the Giants by tormenting Toronto in the American League Championship Series. He batted .400, stole a record eight bases in five games, homered twice, scored eight runs, drove in five and amassed seven walks. Naturally, he won ALCS Most Valuable Player honors. Overall, Henderson was an uneven October performer, batting .364 or higher in five postseason series compared to .284 lifetime in the postseason.

4. Leadoff power
1980-2003

Henderson's record of 81 leadoff homers could be unassailable; his closest pursuers, Alfonso Soriano and Craig Biggio, had 53 apiece. On July 5, 1993, Henderson drilled leadoff homers in both games of a doubleheader against Cleveland. Even Henderson's final homer, which he struck against St. Louis' Woody Williams on July 20, 2003, was a leadoff drive.

5. Who needs hits?
July 29, 1989

Despite recording no official at-bats, Henderson stole a personal-best five bases off Seattle's Randy Johnson. Henderson drew four walks from Johnson to put himself in position to score four runs, but Seattle thumped the A's, 14-6.

6. '90 proof
April 9-Oct. 3, 1990

Henderson had his finest season, complementing a career-tying 28 home runs with 119 runs scored, an AL-high 65 stolen bases, a Major League-leading .439 on-base percentage and a 1.016 OPS. His 189 OPS+ was his highest ever and another Major League-best figure. He edged Detroit's Cecil Fielder to win the AL Most Valuable Player Award.

7. Set-up man
1979-2003

This explains a lot about Henderson's record-setting runs and stolen-base totals: He walked 796 times to lead off an inning. He led the league in walks four times, runs five times and stolen bases 12 times, including 11 times in 12 seasons between 1980-91. A right hamstring injury likely prevented him from winning the stolen-base crown in 1987.

8. 2001: A statistical odyssey
April 17-Oct. 7, 2001

Records fall like autumn leaves when great athletes such as Henderson approach the end of their careers. During this season, which represented his second stint with San Diego, the 42-year-old Henderson broke Ty Cobb's mark of 2,245 career runs, Babe Ruth's standard of 2,062 walks (Henderson's total of 2,190 has since been eclipsed by Barry Bonds) and Zack Wheat's record of 2,328 games in left field.

9. Sharing the glory
Oct. 7, 2001

In his second stint with San Diego, Henderson collected his 3,000th career hit, a leadoff double off Colorado's John Thomson. This also happened to be the last game of Tony Gwynn's 20-year career with the Padres, and Henderson didn't want to do anything to upstage him. He left the game after coming around to score following his hit.

10. Some trivia
Oct. 23, 1993

Who was on base when Joe Carter immortalized himself in baseball history by homering off Mitch Williams in the bottom of the ninth inning of World Series Game 6 to win it all for Toronto? Why, Henderson, of course, who drew a leadoff walk. Also on base was Paul Molitor, who singled with one out immediately before Carter connected.

Chris Haft has covered the Major Leagues since 1991 and has worked for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @goodforball.