Twenty-five years ago, the San Diego Padres made a surprise addition to the team, as they signed a future Hall-of-Fame player for the 1996 season.
Rickey Henderson was inked to a two-year/$4 million deal on December 29, 1995. The contract included many incentives regarding games played and Henderson’s plate appearances that he easily triggered, making the total deal worth $6.295 million for the two years when all was said and done. It was a very hefty sum to pay for a 37-year-old with some possible baggage in terms of personality.
The price tag was well worth it, as Henderson helped rally the Padres to their first playoff appearance in 12 years. The 1996 team finished short of their goal, as the St. Louis Cardinals beat them in the playoffs. However, they did help revive a dormant Padres fan base that was undoubtedly still bitter about the fire sales that had taken place in the early ’90s and fractured the hearts of many Padres fans.
The team needed a new image, and Henderson certainly brought that to the Friars. The San Diego Padres would no longer be considered a second-class team, and with the addition of Henderson, they now had a swagger about them, something that had not been seen since the World Series team of 1984.
The San Diego Padres teams of this era were entertaining to watch play the game of baseball.
Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley, Tony Gwynn, and Henderson molded the franchise back into relevance. They all played the game the right way, and with the flair of Henderson, fans enjoyed watching the Padres on a national scale. Something San Diegans were certainly not used to was watching their baseball team be featured as the “Game of the Week.” Rickey Henderson had a lot to do with that. Fans were enthralled with him as he climbed the record books.
Take a look at this particular moment when Rickey Henderson became Major League Baseball’s all-time runs leader. On October 4, 2001, he pulled a fastball into the left-field stands at Qualcomm Stadium for a home run and instantly became the new record holder in the history of the game in terms of runs scored. He slid into home and produced a wonderful speech at home plate as only Rickey could. Enjoy.
Padres history is not deep, but the team certainly does have its moments.
Baseball history itself runs well over 100 years, and the Padres are mere infants in the overall history of baseball. Cultivating moments like this, while educating young Padres fans on the history of the team, is vital for growth and the eventual success of the franchise.
Rickey Henderson was fun to watch. He loved the attention and produced when all eyes were on him. The man had charisma and a way about him that will never be equaled on the baseball field. At times you had to question what he was doing, but in the end, the man produced for his team. That is what counts when playing the game.
Here is Rickey’s 3,000 hit, which was three days after the all-time run record.
On October 7, 2001, in Qualcomm Stadium, he became the 25th member (at the time) of the 3,000 hit club, with a bloop double down the right-field line against the Rockies. It was the first pitch Henderson saw of the final game of the 2001 regular season. That would be Rickey’s last game in a Padres’ uniform, as he would be granted free agency about a month later and sign with the Boston Red Sox in February of 2002.
In his 25 years in the league, Henderson amassed 1,406 stolen bases and 2,295 runs, both still MLB records. He retired with a .279/.401/.419 batting line, with 297 home runs and 1,115 RBI’s. Eighty-one of his career home runs came while he was leading off a game, which is also still a major league record.
As a Padres outfielder, Henderson hit .245/.399/.354 in 359 games and three seasons. He stole 91 bases and recorded a 106 OPS+ for the team. His best year for the Padres was 1996 when he played in 148 games for the team and scored 110 runs while walking 125 times. The 37-year-old outfielder (at the time) stole 37 bases and was a pain for opposing sides to deal with.
He followed that up with a .279/.422/.375 season in 1997; he played in 88 games. He stole 29 bases before being dealt to the Angels in August for Steven Agosto, Ryan Hancock, and a player to be named later that turned out to be minor league third baseman, George Arias. The team was committed to Greg Vaughn in left field and felt comfortable with Quilvio Veras as the team’s new leadoff hitter.
Henderson was a fan favorite, and rightfully so, as he was often interacting with the fans. He even did so during the game while standing in left field. That drove some players, coaches, and fans crazy, but that was just Rickey, being Rickey.
Say what you want about the man, but Rickey Henderson had fun playing the game of baseball, and that is what it is all about. It is a game.