We've already taken a look at former Yankees Joe Gordon and Tony Kubek who were honored in Cooperstown this weekend. The one remaining former Yankee to examine is easily the best of the bunch, Rickey Henderson.
Henderson is best remembered for his days in Oakland, and rightfully so. But Rickey spent four and a half of Rickey's best years playing for the Yankees. The A's shipped Rickey to the Bronx after the 1984 season. It was the first of several transactions in Rickey's career, as Rickey would go on to have a 25 year career that included 13 different stints with nine different teams, including twice with the Padres and four times with the A's.
The Yankees paid a hefty price for Rickey, surrendering top prospects Jose Rijo and Stan Javier, as well as valuable bullpen arm Jay Howell and prospects Tim Birtsas and Eric Plunk. But Rickey paid immediate dividends for the Yanks. Rickey combined with Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield to give the Yanks a potent offensive core.
In his first season with the Yankees, Rickey led the AL in runs and stolen bases and set a then career high in OPS+ with 157, surpassed only by Rickey's MVP campaign in 1990. Rickey finished third in the MVP voting in 1985, was an All-Star and won the Silver Slugger as well. The Yankees finished just two games out of first in the AL East.
In 1986, Rickey again lead the league in both runs and stolen bases, but saw significant drops in his AVG, OBP, and SLG, causing his OPS+ to drop to 125. Rickey also began to gripe about playing centerfield, where Rickey had been moved upon Rickey's arrival from Oakland.
In 1987 Rickey split time between left and center, but perhaps all the stolen bases and the stress of playing center had taken its toll on Rickey, as Rickey played in only 95 games. Rickey got Rickey's OPS+ back up to 145, but it was also the only year from 1980 to 1991 that Rickey didn't lead the AL in SB.
Rickey rebounded in 1988. Moved back to leftfield full time, Rickey set a franchise record with 93 stolen bases. Rickey also scored 118 runs, good for third in the AL. On July 21st in Kansas City, Rickey led off the game with a homerun, passing one-time Yankee Bobby Bonds for the all-time mark.
In 1989, Rickey was unhappy with Rickey's contract situation. Rickey was in the final year of Rickey's contract and Rickey was the less than enthused about that situation. It was reflected in Rickey's play, as Rickey was batting just .247 and slugging just .349. So the Yankees shipped Rickey back to Oakland. They received Eric Plunk, who they had shipped out for Rickey nearly five years earlier, Greg Cadaret, and Luis Polonia for the first of his three stints as a Yankee. Needless to say, it turned out to be a bad trade, occuring in the midst of the first of four consecutive losing seasons for the Yankees.
Rickey was an All-Star are four of his full seasons in the Bronx and remains the Yankees career stolen base leader with 326, with Derek Jeter 33 behind Rickey entering play yesterday. Rickey also has the top three single season SB totals in Yankee history.
For Rickey's career, Rickey is the all-time leader in stolen bases, caught stealing, and runs, is second in base on balls, and fourth in games played and times on base. Rickey is baseball's all-time greatest base stealer and leadoff hitter. Rickey is also one of baseball's all-time characters, as these stories can attest. Rickey loved to play the game, not officially announcing Rickey's retirement until Rickey was hired as a coach by the Mets in 2007, and often playing in independent leagues hoping for another shot at the Bigs.