Today in 1984, the Yankees sent Jay Howell, Jose Rijo, Stan Javier, Tim Birtsas and Eric Plunk to Oakland and they received Rickey Henderson in return (and some guy named Bert Bradley). Rickey went on to be the best player on a loaded Yankee team (yes – better than Mattingly and Winfield) and depending on how many plate appearances you require, one of the best Yankees of all time.
From 1985 through 1988 among American Leaguers with at least 2,200 PA, Rickey was
- 1st in runs scored
- 1st in SB and SB success rate (kinda’ tough to do both)
- 2nd in WAR (Boggs was 1st)
- 3rd in OBP
- 5th in both walks and adjusted OPS
Random stuff about Rickey’s tenure with the Yankees:
- Over that stretch, Wade Boggs reached base safely 336 more times than Rickey – and Rickey scored 22 more runs. I’m not picking on Boggs, because Dwight Evans, Mattingly, Puckett, Ripken and Murray also reached base more often over that span and scored FAR fewer runs. It wasn’t just SB – Rickey was elite at advancing on outs, taking two bases on singles, three bases on doubles and scoring on fly balls. Baseball is about scoring runs and driving them in – when it comes to scoring them, Rickey did it as well as anyone who ever played baseball.
- Imagine: he averaged 75 stolen bases per season as a Yankee with an 86% success rate, and he was still was walked 350 times. Pitchers knew if they walked him it would very likely turn into a double, he had Mattingly, Winfield, and Don Baylor hitting behind him, and his plate discipline and command were so off the charts great, he still drew 350 walks.
- Rickey’s 9.9 WAR in 1985 is the best season by a Yankee right-handed batter EVER. Yes, better than any single season by DiMaggio, A-Rod, Jeter or Judge.
I know, I know, you don’t need to be told how great Rickey Henderson was. But I’m old enough to remember that the perception of many Yankee fans at the time was that Rickey underperformed in pinstripes. That he was better with Oakland. That he was just the table-setter – Mattingly and Winfield were the stars who drove him in.
We were wrong about all of the above. It’s a stretch to say that someone who is a hall of famer can be underrated, but Yankee fans somehow manage to underrate Rickey, specifically with regards to his time in New York.
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