Rickey Henderson in San Diego.

Like most people from my generation, there was something about Rickey Henderson that sparked my imagination. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t try to emulate him as a kid. In little league, I wore his trademark neon green padded Mizuno batting gloves and subscribed to the Rickey frame of mind that “If my uniform doesn’t get dirty, I haven’t done anything in the game.” This is something I still carry with me to this day while playing. I was legitimately excited about Padres baseball from 1996-1997 and again in 2001, solely based on the fact that Tony Gwynn and Rickey Henderson were both on the team. I think you get the idea, I loved Rickey Henderson and his time he spent playing baseball in San Diego.

On October 4th, 2001Rickey Henderson hit a home run which put him ahead Ty Cobb to become the all-time runs scored leader. I looked for this video for years and eventually gave up, fortunately though, MLB uploaded it to YouTube about a year and half ago. Needless to say, I was excited when I discovered it. I suggest watching this gem and paying attention to the following things:

  • Rickey’s slide into home plate. I remember seeing this on ESPN and thinking how fitting it was. The pinnacle of “Rickey being Rickey.”
  • Jerry Coleman’s enthusiasm after Rickey goes yard is amazing and makes me miss The Colonel even more.
  • Jack Murphy Stadium with it’s palm trees. I don’t care what anyone says, they were awesome.
  • The cast of characters that come out to congratulate Rickey brings back some serious memories. The one that got me was Mike Darr. It’s so weird to see him and know that his life would end in a little over 4 months from this day.
  • Tony Gwynn presenting Rickey with the ceremonial gold base at the end of the video.

Rickey Henderson & Tony GwynnOctober 7th, 2001 was a special day in San Diego sports history due to the fact that Rickey Henderson and Tony Gwynn both wore a Padres uniform for the last time. For Gwynn, it was the last game of his playing career and for Henderson, he got his 3000th career hit. Rickey lead off the game with a double for his landmark hit, which you can watch HERE.

The story goes that Henderson did not want to play that day, as he feared it would be a detraction to the celebration of Gwynn’s last game. Tony wasn’t having this and insisted that Henderson play. Rickey was pulled from the game after scoring in the first inning, but in the bottom of the ninth inning, he re-entered the game as the third base coach, when Tony entered the game as a pinch hitter. Unfortunately he grounded out to the shortstop in his last at-bat, presumably while trying to knock the ball through the 5.5 hole.

Rickey Henderson Surf DawgsIn 2005, at the age of 45, Rickey Henderson played with the San Diego Surf Dawgs, an independent minor league team in the now defunct Golden Baseball League. This was Rickey’s 3rd season in independent ball (he spent parts of the previous two seasons with the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League), and it ended up being his last year in professional baseball. I think it’s safe to say that Rickey loved the game and was hanging on purely for the love, as he surely didn’t need the money. Oh yeah, he had a sweet bobblehead while with the Surf Dawgs that I still need to get my hands on. (Image Source: Jed Jacobsohn Photography)

Fernando Valenzuela Rickey HendersonDario Veras, Fernando Valenzuela and Rickey Henderson celebrate after beating the Dodgers on the last day of the 1996 season and therefore becoming the National League West champions. For most people, this will always be considered the “Chris Gwynn” game and should rank highly in San Diego’s greatest sports moments.

San Diego Padres Rickey Henderson (R) slides safely
October 3rd, 1996. In game six of the 1996 NLDS, Rickey slid head first into home plate in typical Rickey fashion. He was safe on the play, but ultimately it didn’t matter as the Cardinals beat the Padres that day and proceeded to sweep them in three straight games. San Diego were “in” every game and it was a heartbreaker to see them knocked out so quickly. I really loved that 1996 team and I thought they would go farther. Those damn Cardinals…

One of the cooler aspects of this play is that Chris Gwynn scored right before him (on a Tony Gwynn single) and Rickey scored right behind the younger Gwynn on a bad throw. If you look at the Getty Images photo of this, you see Chris on his knees, signaling to Rickey to get down with a slide. It’s definitely a cool photo worth checking out.