Henderson inducted into baseball Hall of Fame

Rickey Henderson during the Baseball Hall of Fame

Rickey Henderson during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y. (Getty Images) (Credit: Getty Images)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Rickey talked a lot about Rickey - without ever mentioning Rickey.

No, Rickey Henderson did not speak in the third person during his Hall of Fame induction speech Sunday. So many people around the game had wondered if he would.

But Henderson's 14-minute speech very much had a Rickey feel anyway.

His words may have been scripted and he spoke slowly, but the content didn't change. In other words, you can't ever take the Rickey out of Rickey.

Wearing a loud cream-colored suit, Henderson took the 21,000 people gathered on the grass outside Clark Sports Center on his path from his childhood in Alameda, Calif., to becoming baseball's stolen-base king. And it was an entertaining speech, even if he later regretted unintentionally leaving out a few important details.

Such as, say, the names of his daughters.

"As most people say, I talk faster than I think," he said. "I was trying to slow my speech down and not make a mistake. But when you have a clip on the pages and one gets stuck, you're wondering what was on that page, what that page was all about. But at the same time you've got to continue to give your speech.

"That page was the kids' names, their grandparents behind them. When I looked at them afterward and saw my kids, I said, 'Wow, I missed my kids' names.' But they said, 'It's OK, Dad' . . . They forgave me."

During his speech, Henderson spoke about how his dream was to be a football player. But he got turned on to baseball because of two bribes.

A local Little League coach, he said, often bribed him with "glazed donuts and hot chocolate" to leave the house and play baseball.

And then in high school, a guidance counselor - "Mrs. Wilkerson" - got him to join the baseball team during his junior year by offering him a quarter for every hit, run scored and stolen base.

"After my first 10 games I had 30 hits, 25 runs scored and 33 steals," he said. "Not bad money for a kid in high school."

When Henderson was asked afterward for Mrs. Wilkerson's first name, he said, "I just called her 'Mrs. Wilkerson.' "

During his speech, Henderson thanked everyone from Tom Trebelhorn, for teaching him how to get a lead at first base, to Billy Martin, for getting the most out of him as his manager during his early days in Oakland.

Henderson also referred to former A's teammate and childhood friend Dave Stewart as his "best friend." Afterward, Stewart said seeing Rickey talking on that stage made him emotional.

"This is my proudest moment in the game," Stewart said. "I feel like my brother just went in."

Henderson closed his speech by bringing it back to his steal of third base on May 1, 1991, when he broke Lou Brock's all-time stolen base record and announced, "I am the greatest of all time!"

The way he was talking yesterday, it appeared he was going to close with that same line, which certainly would be a fitting ending. But then he pulled a twist.

"In closing, my favorite hero was Muhammad Ali," Henderson told the crowd. "He said at one time, quote, I AM the greatest, end of quote. That is something I always wanted to be. And now that the association has voted me into the baseball Hall of Fame, my journey as a player is complete.

"I am now in the class of the greatest players of all time, and at this moment, I am . . . very . . . very . . . humbled. Thank you."

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