OAKLAND, Calif. -- Rickey Henderson stole his way into the record books yesterday in his own unique and flashy style. He went in headfirst and, remarkably, his designer sunglasses remained in place. Lou Brock's all-time stolen base record went down with hoopla and fanfare, much of which was provided by the new king himself.
Moments after he became No. 1 with his 939th career stolen base, Henderson announced over a loudspeaker: "Lou Brock was a symbol of great base-stealing. But today I am the greatest of all time."
It was 1:52 p.m. Pacific time when Henderson became the greatest. He slid into third base well ahead of a limp tag from Yankees third baseman Randy Velarde, who fielded the one-hop throw from catcher Matt Nokes.
With the count 1-and-0 on Harold Baines and one out in the fourth inning, Henderson got a great break off second on Tim Leary's low changeup. And thus he made history against his former team.
Next came the celebration, which took almost as long as the two-run inning. Henderson pumped his fist and patted the bag, then removed it from the ground and hoisted it above his head. He continued to wave his fists to the crowd as his entourage poured onto the field. His mother and chief confidant, Bobbie Henderson, came out, as did Brock, who brought his son, Louis Jr., out with him.
Nobody played it up bigger than Henderson, who also knows how to steal a moment. The first thing he told the crowd of 36,139 was, "It took a long time."
Afterward, Henderson said, "These last two bases were the toughest in my career. I was putting pressure on myself and fighting myself. The fans were so involved, it was tough to concentrate. I've been carrying so much pressure that it was tough to sleep."
Henderson had promised to do it against the Yankees, but his former team was giving him grief and anxiety. After shutting him out Tuesday night, Nokes threw Henderson out at second in the first inning, delaying by an hour the record, the celebration and Henderson's proclamation.
Interestingly, Nokes also threw Henderson out at third in the fifth inning, meaning the greatest was 1-for-3 against the supposedly weak-throwing Nokes on this record-setting day.
"I feel great," Nokes said. "It was an honor to be a part of it."
In his speech to the crowd, Henderson, 32, first thanked "God, the Haas family [A's owners], the A's organization, the city of Oakland and all the fans." Then, he thanked, "Mom, my family, friends and loved ones."
The thank-yous continued to pour out. "I appreciate Tom Trebelhorn [his first minor-league manager] and the late Billy Martin," Henderson told the crowd. "Billy Martin was a great manager. I love you, Billy. I wish you were here."
Henderson's historic moment was only slightly tainted in that it came after reaching first when shortstop Alvaro Espinoza let his grounder go between his legs. Dave Henderson then reached on an infield single over the third base bag, moving Rickey to second.
Leary, ever conscious of Rickey's speed, nearly picked him off second but he slid in barely ahead of Espinoza's tag. Later, Leary indicated he thought Henderson was out, saying, "The umpire was behind the bag. He couldn't see the tag."
Finally, Henderson took off. And took the record with him.
"I felt really relieved," said Henderson, who promised to continue the celebration later with a 15-year-old bottle of champagne. "I felt like a new man."
"939" was flashing on the scoreboard as Brock told Henderson, "Competition among men is one of the oldest practices known to man. Even the great philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle were competitive.
"Today, you might have been the greatest competitor who ever ran the bases in the big leagues. And I say congratulations. You are a legend in your time."
Henderson already knew that.
RUNDOWN ON RICKEY
Who he's ahead of
All-time stolen base leaders R.Henderson 939 Lou Brock 938 Ty Cobb 892 Eddie Collins 743 Max Carey 738 What they said
Rickey is the No. 1 offensive weapon in his sport. He's what Michael Jordan is, what Joe Montana is."
-- Reggie Jackson "Actually, I was honored to be part of history. I'm not bitter. I'm glad I had the opportunity to try to stop him."
,-- Yankees catcher Matt Nokes