Rickey Henderson makes big league debut with A’s

Written by: Ryan Turnquist

On June 24, 1979, Major League Baseball’s future all-time leader in stolen bases nabbed second base in the first game of a doubleheader against the Texas Rangers.

It was the first steal of Rickey Henderson’s career. There would be a record-setting 1,405 more to come in his 25-year career. Henderson also recorded his first hit as a big leaguer in the contest – a leadoff double to right field for the Athletics off Rangers starter John Henry Johnson.

Henderson would later add a single to left in his next at-bat and promptly swipe second, something that became a trademark over his career. En route to becoming the all-time leader in steals, Henderson also set all-time marks in runs (2,295) and unintentional walks (2,139).

“For the period of time that I’ve been around, I think the most dangerous player is Rickey,” Henderson’s former manager in Oakland, Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, told writer Jack O’Connell in 2009. “In our time, Rickey worried you in more ways than anyone.”

The Rangers would eventually win Henderson’s debut game 36 years ago this week 5-1 behind a strong start from Johnson. The righty allowed six hits, two coming off the bat of Henderson. For A’s fans, Henderson’s debut marked a high point in an otherwise challenging campaign.

Tony La Russa managed Oakland for 10 seasons and led the team to three pennants and one World Series title. (Brad Mangin/National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Oakland would drop the nightcap of that June 24 doubleheader, losing 7-2. They would finish the season 54-108, last in the American League West by 13 games. This was something of a transitional time for a franchise that had seen a dynasty-like run in the early 70’s, including five consecutive West division titles from 1971-75 and three consecutive World Series Championships from 1972-74.

Henderson’s arrival from the A’s Triple-A affiliate in Ogden, Utah, would spark a rebirth of sorts for the franchise. In the two years following his rookie campaign, the A’s would have winning seasons. They won the West division crown in 1981, before being swept in the American League Championship Series by the New York Yankees.

During his career, Henderson played for nine teams. He spent 14 of his 25 years with Oakland in three different stints, and won World Series titles with the A’s in 1989 and the Blue Jays in 1993.

“Rickey in my opinion is one of the best three or four players to ever play the game,” former teammate Dave Stewart told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2009.

The dominance of Henderson is perhaps summed up best by George Will, who championed his case as the best baseball player of the last 25 years in a 1999 Newsweek article.

“In basketball, one man can take over a game. In baseball no one position player – other than a pitcher on an unusually dominating day can, but for many years, Henderson has come close.”

Henderson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.

Ryan Turnquist was the 2015 public relations intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
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