COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Jim Rice’s icy glare melted into a wide smile. Brash, flamboyant Rickey Henderson was humbled by it all.
The former left fielders were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday along with the late Joe Gordon, and Henderson, baseball’s all-time leading base stealer, was briefly overcome before evoking some hearty laughs.
“My journey as a player is complete,” Henderson said. “I am now in the class of the greatest players of all time, and at this moment I am very humbled.”
“My dream was to play football for the Oakland Raiders,” Henderson said. “But my mother thought I would get hurt playing football, so she chose baseball for me. I guess moms do know best.”
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Henderson led the American League in steals 12 times and holds the record for steals with 1,406, runs scored with 2,295, unintentional walks with 2,129, and homers leading off a game with 81.
While Henderson, now 50, was just the 44th player elected to the Hall in his first year of eligibility, Rice had to wait until his final year of eligibility to be selected.
“It doesn’t matter that the call came 15 years later,” Rice said. “What matters is that I got it.
“It’s hard to comprehend. I am in awe to be in this elite company and humbled to be accepting this honor,” Rice said, pointing at the 50 Hall of Famers on stage behind him and then at the fans.
Playing at a time when offensive numbers paled in comparison to the so-called steroid era, Rice batted .298 with 382 home runs and 1,451 RBIs from 1974-89.
He drove in 100 or more runs eight times, batted over .300 seven times, and topped 200 hits four times. And he’s the only player in major league history with at least 35 homers and 200 hits in three consecutive seasons (1977-79).
And he’s known for a long time the reason he had to wait so long.
“The media often asked me about my players (teammates),” Rice, now 56, said. “I refused to be the media’s mouthpiece. I came to Boston to play professional baseball, and that’s what I did. And I did it well.”
The day’s most poignant moment came at the end of the acceptance speech given by Gordon’s daughter, Judy. Gordon died in 1978 at age 63 and requested that he not have a funeral.
“We consider Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame as his final resting place, a place he’ll be honored forever,” Judy Gordon said, tears welling in her eyes. “
Gordon won the 1942 AL MVP, beating out Triple Crown winner Ted Williams, and was an All-Star nine times in 11 seasons, leading the league in assists four times and in double plays three times. Nicknamed “Flash” because of his quick feet, Gordon was the first AL second baseman to hit 20 home runs in a season — he did it seven times — and still holds the league mark for career homers by a second baseman (246).