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December 06, 2001

Rickey hopes phone will ring
By Dan Patrick

These days it's not unusual for future Hall of Famers to show up late for spring training. But this is a little too late for Rickey Henderson.

He'd like to be there. There is just no one inviting him.

Rickey Henderson
Rickey Henderson helped the Mariners reach the postseason and caused no problems in the clubhouse last year.

A guy who made his living with his legs is sitting. Waiting. At age 42, maybe the game has passed him by. Or is just passing on him.

This is the first time in nearly 25 years that Rickey Henderson hasn't been at spring training. Why would he come back? You could say that he still loves the game. But maybe it's for the numbers:

  • 86 hits shy of 3,000
  • Three walks away from surpassing Babe Ruth for the most ever
  • 68 runs away from replacing Ty Cobb on top of that list

    You have to wonder about a guy who will be viewed as the greatest leadoff hitter in major league history. Why is he going out with a whimper? Maybe a selfish "me first" attitude has caught up with Henderson. Is there room for this player? Do you want to have him for just one year for a couple of promotions surrounding these milestones that he could easily achieve?

    Rickey has said it's not about money. But this, of course, is from a guy who not long after signing a $3 million-a-year contract was complaining that he was underpaid.

    He may have to take a minor league contract just like Jose Canseco, Harold Baines, David Cone and Dwight Gooden did. He's been with seven different teams -- which in a 20-plus year career maybe isn't that bad. But it would have to be some kind of record when he does make the Hall of Fame.

    For now, he stays at home. He's working out just waiting for someone to call. It's one of those things that happens in the life of an athlete. Do you decide when it's time to quit? Does somebody else decide? So far in this case, the game has decided for Henderson. In the meantime, he'll wait just in case somebody thinks there's a place for him.

    He's looking for one last chance. It could be numbers-driven, in which case he doesn't care where he's going. The Red Sox, A's and Expos were the slowest teams in baseball last year. The A's grabbed Johnny Damon, but the other two still have a need for speed.

    The one bright spot for Rickey is the notion of one particular guy working with the Yankees right now. If Sid Fernandez is getting a tryout, then Rickey's phone could be ringing any time.

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