OAKLAND, Calif. -- The dream, as Rickey Henderson called his improbable goal of becoming the greatest base stealer ever, was born when a counselor at Oakland's Technical High promised to pay a quarter for every one he stole there. But it was Bobbie Henderson who sent her son out on this career of crime.
She talked him out of football and an attempt to emulate his idol, O.J. Simpson, and consistently reminded him that the only way to play baseball was with a dirty uniform.
"I always tried to create a situation where I had to slide so that I
could go home dirty," Henderson said in nostalgic reverie after fulfilling his dream yesterday, "and it didn't take me long to learn you got dirtiest by sliding headfirst."
It has been his trademark, and he stamped it indelibly on the record book with a headfirst steal of third in the fourth inning of the Oakland Athletics' 7-4 victory over the New York Yankees.
The steal was his third of a season in which he recently missed 14 games with a strained calf muscle and 939th of his career, breaking the tie with Lou Brock.
That moment turned into minutes as a ceremony near third base interrupted the game once Henderson had uprooted the bag and held it triumphantly over his head as a crowd of 36,139 stood in tribute. Henderson said later that he will keep the bag and send his cleats to the Hall of Fame.
The Athletics, who have refused Henderson's wishes to renegotiate his contract, said they would make a $75,000 contribution to Oakland-area charities in his name and reward him with a 1991 Porsche.
Henderson's wife, Pam, his mother and Brock joined him on the field for the ceremony, during which Brock saluted his successor as a "legend in his time" and "maybe the greatest competitor who ever ran the bases."
Henderson acknowledged the support of family, team and fans, and paid special tribute to Milwaukee Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn, his first manager in the minor leagues, and the late Billy Martin.
Henderson told the crowd that Martin was a great manager and said: "I love you Billy. I wish you were here."
Turning to Brock, who has been a tutor and friend since Hendersoncame to the major leagues, Henderson said, "Lou Brock was a symbol of great base stealing, but today I am the greatest of all time."
Henderson raised his arms exultantly, and the crowd thundered its approval before rushing to the souvenir stands where commemorative T-shirts sold for $12, limited edition coins for $35 and Man of Steal posters for $5.
"It means a great deal to me since I came to the big leagues with the reputation that I could create things with my base stealing," he said.
He stole 100 bases in his first full season and hasn't stopped.
At 32, he expressed confidence that he can play six to eight more years, pushing the record "so high no one will ever break it."
There is no diminishing Henderson's accomplishment. Consider:
* Brock took 19 years to reach 938, set a record of 118 steals in 1974 but did not steal more than 75 in any other season. Henderson is in his 13th season and has stolen 75 or more seven times, including a record 130 in 1982.
* Although Maury Wills of the Los Angeles Dodgers became the first player to steal 100 or more bases in a season when he got 104 in 1962, he had only three other seasons of 50 or more. Henderson has stolen 50 or more 10 times, 100 or more three times.
* And when Henderson stole his 893rd base to break Ty Cobb's American League record last season, he did it in his 1,515th game. Cobb stole 892 in 3,034 games spanning 24 seasons.