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Rickey Henderson, Technical Mariner

An unapologetic look at the eighties, baseball cards, and the author's favorite Mariner of all time (who was barely a Mariner at all).

rickey thinking about being rickey
rickey thinking about being rickey

I'm not sure why I became a baseball fan. My parents showed no inclination toward the sport; my Little League career lasted three whole years, and my only offensive skill stemmed from my lack of height and my willingness to leave the bat on my shoulder. When I was a kid in the early eighties, ESPN was channel 3; whenever I turned on the television it would be there, but the network rarely had baseball back then. There was probably more bowling than anything else, and I didn't become a big bowling fan or anything.

RhIn fact, strange as it sounds, I probably fell in love with baseball because of baseball cards. My parents had a friend who was as interested in the game as they were, but he was an artist, so we used to pore over the cards my mom bought in the local drug store, discussing the aesthetics of different poses, the designs of the cards and the uniforms. Meanwhile, as a kid who adored numbers, I would sit and analyze the statistics on the back, trying to figure out what made some players better than others.

Through my cards, I should have developed a hometown hero by this time. The Mariners didn't have much to offer: the lanky, wild Mark Langston, the constipated-looking Matt Young, or the "country strong" Jim Presley. The most popular of them was Mr. Mariner himself, Alvin Davis. But I was no power-hitting first baseman, and when occasionally allowed to pitch I looked more like Glenn Abbott than Langston. So necessity, and those little numbers, forced me to look elsewhere for a favorite player. I needed someone like me: a little on the short side, someone who got on base and stole bases and scored runs.

Instead of a Mariner, I chose a rival for my boyhood idol: Rickey Henderson. It turned out to be a pretty good choice.

I didn't realize at the time how good it was. The number 130 was my 61, the number of stolen bases in his record-setting 1982 season. I thought stolen bases were everything, the alternative to those hulking kids in my grade school. But I didn't appreciate the full value of all those walks, or those runs scored, or how genuinely awesome he could be.

Rh2It was fun finding out. I remember playing tennis one summer day when I found out that Henderson had been traded back to the A's in 1989 after four long purgatorial years in New York. I grinned as I learned of Rickey's penchant for avoiding the first-person pronoun. I cheered as the M's scooped him up to fill, for a little while, that dreaded left field hole for half a season in 2000, and got to watch him steal a base in person for the first time. And I remember, in those dark days before, watching his little yellow dot round the bases on ESPN's early incarnation of Gameday, scoring his record-breaking run on the last day of what seemed like his last season. It wasn't.

Henderson stuck around forever, and I stayed connected to my youth through him for longer than I had any right to. I still hold out hope that one day, he might pull a Minnie Minoso and strap on the helmet one more time. If anyone did, it would be him.

I still have those baseball cards in my garage, including the 1983 Topps Record Breaker. They're kind of silly and pointless, in the sense that baseball itself is. But the cards are also a kind of baseball scrapbook, something tactile and concrete. In a game where we're all worried about the future. of analyzing prospects and processes and trends, those cards are a look backwards, a tiny little connection to being a kid. Perhaps that's also the definition of immaturity.

Topps Archives Baseball is a celebration of the 70s, 80s and 90s, what many consider to be the glory years of card collecting. If you collected Topps Baseball Cards during these years then you will love Topps Archives Baseball. Look for autographs and memorabilia cards from today’s stars and your favorite retired players on classic Topps card designs.