Rickey Runs Into the Record Books

August 27, 1982


Rickey Henderson has said that runs scored are the most important statistics for a baseball player. But on Aug. 27, 1982, the only thing Rickey cared about was stealing second base.

Brewers right-hander George “Doc” Medich made the mistake of issuing a two-out, four-pitch walk to the greatest base stealer in the game in the top of the third, and the 23-year-old Henderson saw his chance to make history. One more swipe would be his 119th of the season, breaking Lou Brock‘s 1974 record.

When Oakland’s Dwayne Murphy eased into the batters’ box, Medich ignored him. The veteran hurler threw to first four straight times to keep Henderson close, but it was no use. With Medich’s first move to the plate, Henderson was off in a cloud of dust.

Even those in the upper reaches of the stadium knew Henderson would be running, so it was no surprise Brewers manager Harvey Kuenn had ordered a pitchout. Ted Simmons‘ peg to second was on target, but Henderson beat the throw, sliding in safely as baseball’s new single-season stolen base king.

“I felt I was safe,” Henderson later said of the close play at second. “I can’t say the throw beat me. If it did, he was in the front of the bag and he had to reach back for me. It was a longer tag for him because he was on the outside.”

Elated, Rickey leapt to his feet and promptly tore second base out of the ground. As Henderson held the bag above his head for all 41,600 cheering fans to see, AL president Lee MacPhail and Lou Brock took the field for a brief ceremony.

But once the game resumed, the cocky young star kept running. Henderson walked and stole second again in the sixth inning then walked and stole second and third in the eighth. By the end of the game, Henderson had increased his total to 122.

Henderson stole eight more bases that season, leaving the single-season record at 130. He achieved the feat in just 127 games, 26 fewer than Brock had needed to set the previous mark.

But Henderson was far from unstoppable. On the contrary, that season he was nabbed a record 42 times by opposing catchers. That ignominious mark topped Ty Cobb‘s 38 times caught stealing in 1915, the same season Cobb set an American League record with 96 steals. (In 1980, his first full season with the A’s, Henderson had broken Cobb’s mark with 100 swipes.)

Rickey still wears a diamond medallion featuring the number “130” to commemorate his accomplishment. In 1991, he topped Brock again with the 939th swipe of his career and again hoisted the base above his head.

He now has set his sights on Cobb’s all-time runs record and recently announced that “I’m digging [home plate] up whenever I get it.” Henderson added, “I might have to wait until the game’s over or come back at 12 o’clock at night, but I’m getting it.”

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