Rickey gets his number retired; A’s history epitomizes baseball’s Steroid issue

RickeyNumberRickey Henderson, who for nearly two and a half decades was one of the greatest baseball players in baseball, stepped into Oakland, Calif., last night and had his jersey retired by his hometown team. It was a nice gesture by the A’s, one of the nine teams Henderson played for during his illustrious career. I was there, only I missed the actual ceremony due to activities outside the ball park. Hey, it happens. BUT, we did get to hear the speech over the stadium’s public address system and actually caught the caravan that carried Rickey, third-base coach Rene Lachman and pitcher Bob Welch around the stadium. The A’s also gave away faux Rickey Henderson jerseys to the first 10,000 fans, so the crowd was abuzz with Rickey fever.

Oddly enough, this turned out to be the third Oakland A’s special event I’ve been to in recent years. I was there a few years back when they retired Dennis Eckersley’s jersey, and earlier this year when they had the 1989 World Series reunion on the field. And it is that reunion that I am reminded of as I think of Rickey’s special day.

Henderson has been heralded all over the country this year for good reason, and he turned out to be the star guest in June when the A’s held that championship reunion. But there were two HUGE omissions from that event, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.

If you thought they’d make a public appearance together after all they have been through in the last five or seven years, I suppose you’d be a fool. But think about this — that 1989 World Series was probably the most memorable team achievement either player ever enjoyed. Hell, without Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, the Oakland A’s probably never would have made a mid-season trade for Rickey Henderson, and Oakland would still be thinking about the Swingin’ A’s teams of the 1970s. And without each other, neither McGwire nor Canseco would own a World Series ring, or be nearly as good as we thought they once were.

So I found it rather funny during that June reunion that the first player the A’s welcomed onto the field was Ken Phelps, whom they referred to as “the man who played back up to first baseman Mark McGwire.” And naturally there was no mention of Canseco, who was the offensive catalyst for those late 80s teams.


The history of the Athletics — from the Philadelphia and Kansas City days to their time in Oakland — is rich with accolades. Collectively, the team has won eight World Series titles (four in Oakland), has had players like Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx and Reggie Jackson, and in recent decades strung together an impressive three straight Rookie of the Year award winners in Jose Canseco (’86), Mark McGwire (’87) and Walt Weiss (’88). And you had incredible achievements like Canseco’s 40/40 campaign in 1988, the team’s unlikely string of 20 straight victories in 2002, MVP campaigns by Miguel Tejada and Jason Giambi in the 90s, Cy Young Awards for Barry Zito, Eckersley, Vida Blue and Catfish Hunter, and of course Rickey Henderson’s assault and ultimate conquer of the all-time stolen bases crown, which was celebrated again on Saturday.

But the Henderson ceremony again reminded folks of the Bay Area, or even baseball fans around the world, that something has been missing from these Oakland celebrations — McGwire and Canseco. How can you honestly celebrate anything Athletics related from that late 80s and early 90s time frame and not include in some fashion McGwire or Canseco?

I’m sure the Oakland front office finds itself asking these same questions every time it plans one of these events. I mean, they know neither McGwire nor Canseco will show their faces together, and it’s be a freakin’ PR nightmare to even invite an admitted steroid user (Canseco) to, in essence, celebrate his achievements. But is it fair to the fans of those teams to just ignore them completely?

This situation epitomizes the quandary that baseball officials all over the league face in this post steroid era. But you cannot simply ignore those suspect players who have had historical impacts on the game. We have to embrace them, too, because they were a part of the game; because this game belongs to the fans, and their memories do not easily forget such achievements, even if they are not plastered on billboards all over the home team’s stadium. The achievements happened. The steroid era happened. Don’t try to act like they didn’t.

One Response to “Rickey gets his number retired; A’s history epitomizes baseball’s Steroid issue”

  1. Nice post! I never really thought about it that way! Rickey was my favorite player growing up, but I always loved Canseco and McGwire with good reason. My cousin wrote a post yesterday on how they should give Dave Stewart his due! http://doin-work.com/2009/08/01/when-will-the-as-retire-dave-stewarts-number/

    It’s going to be interesting to see how all of this steroid era is going to play out. So in Boston’s case, you have to wonder if they acknowledge Ortiz and Ramierez!?! Or what about Bonds (actually SF probably do something for him), but Clemens probably won’t get that…

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