Henderson named 1990 AL MVP

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

He was already the single-season stolen base king and well on his way to the career record in thefts as well.

But for Rickey Henderson, the pinnacle of his playing career may have come on Nov. 20, 1990, when he was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player.

At 31 years old, Henderson had already posted his best string of seasons – leading the AL in stolen bases every year except one since 1980. That stretch included his legendary 1982 campaign when he stole 130 bases to set a still-unbroken single-season mark.

But in 1990, Henderson did it all for an Oakland team that was the class of the league. He led the AL with 119 runs scored, a .439 on-base percentage and 65 steals – his lowest total to date in a full season of games but still 22 more than runner-up Steve Sax of the Yankees.

“For the period of time that I’ve been around, I think the most dangerous player is Rickey,” said Tony La Russa, who managed with and against Henderson in the big leagues. “In our time, Rickey worried you in more ways than anyone.”

Henderson tied a career-high with 28 home runs and recorded 61 RBI for a 1990 Oakland team that won 103 regular-season games and the AL pennant before being upset by the Reds in the World Series.

In the MVP voting, Henderson edged the Tigers’ Cecil Fielder, who burst onto the national scene that summer while en route to 51 home runs and 132 RBI – totals that led all of baseball. Henderson tallied 317 points to 286 for fielder in the MVP vote.

Henderson became the first regular leadoff hitter to win a league MVP since Pete Rose in 1973.

Henderson would go on to play 13 more big league seasons, winning two more stolen base titles and setting all-time marks for runs scored (2,295), stolen bases (1,406) and unintentional walks (2,129).

He also finished with 3,055 hits and 297 home runs.

“You can’t win if you can’t score,” Henderson said. “So I’d say that (the runs scored record) is my greatest accomplishment.”

Henderson was named to 10 All-Star Games and finished in the top 10 of his league's MVP voting six times.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first time on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2009.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series