Henderson’s deal with Padres sets the stage for history

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

Rickey Henderson was already the undisputed stolen base king when – at the age of 42 – he signed a one-year deal with the San Diego Padres on March 19, 2001.

But Henderson had his sights set on three more milestones: The all-time record for runs scored and bases on balls, and his 3,000th hit. All of those would come that season with the Padres.

Henderson’s minor league deal with San Diego called for a $250,000 salary if he made the team. But the seemingly ageless Henderson far exceeded expectations that he would be simply a fourth outfielder.

“I’ve always thought Spring Training was too long as it is,” Henderson told the Associated Press on the day he signed with San Diego, following several weeks where it looked like he might not find a job in 2001. “I just need enough to get my timing down.”

The Padres sent Henderson to Triple-A Portland following his late Spring Training debut. After nine games with the Beavers, Henderson was recalled to the Padres, joining a team he spent time with in 1996 and 1997.

By the end of April, Henderson had established himself as San Diego’s everyday left fielder.

“He’s a winning player,” Padres manager Bruce Bochy told the Associated Press. “He’s the type of guy that will help other players.”

Henderson had his first rendezvous with history that season on April 25 when he drew a walk in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Phillies to pass Babe Ruth’s mark of 2,062 bases on balls. Ruth had held the record since 1930.

“It’s quite a milestone,” Bochy told the North County Times. “You’re talking about history.”

Henderson’s other two records came in the season’s final week. On Oct. 4, he homered in the third inning against the Dodgers’ Luke Prokopec. When he reached home with what would be his record 2,246th run scored, Henderson slid across the plate – fulfilling a request from his teammates.

“I think it made their day,” Henderson told the North County Times. “I know it made my day.

“Going out and scoring so many runs, it’s just not an individual record. It’s a record that you’ve got to have your teammates help you out.”

Cobb had held the runs scored record since 1925. Since the start of Major League Baseball in 1871, only five players – Ross Barnes, Jim O’Rourke, Cap Anson, Cobb and Henderson – have held the career runs scored record.

Three days after becoming the all-time runs scored king – on the last day of the season – Henderson doubled on the first pitch he saw leading off the bottom of the first for his 3,000th career hit.

The game also marked the final big league appearance for fellow future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.

“Man, what a sight – Rickey cruising into second base and all of his teammates running out there,” Gwynn told the AP. “That’s what the game’s all about.”

Henderson played two more seasons in the big leagues and played for independent league teams in 2004 and 2005 before calling it a career. He remains the all-time leader in runs scored (2,295), stolen bases (1,406) and unintentional walks (2,129).

Henderson was elected to the Hall of Fame 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