SI Vault
 
Light Years Ahead Of The Field
Peter Gammons
July 28, 1986
The Yankees' Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines of Montreal are simply the best leadoff men ever
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 28, 1986

Light Years Ahead Of The Field

The Yankees' Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines of Montreal are simply the best leadoff men ever

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

Raines, on the other hand, says he "never gave much thought" to stolen bases in high school. "I might have had 23 in 25 games, but they were easy," he says. "But when I got into pro ball, my coaches told me that running was my ticket to the big leagues. So I ran. No one had to teach me. Growing up for me was running and playing baseball. My father was a semipro baseball player and former track star, and my four brothers and I would race against Pop. Three of them were older than me, but I was the first one ever to beat Pop, and I didn't do it till I was 15."

The running styles of both men show pure athletic skill. Neither takes a long lead. "Diving back headfirst is too much of a pounding," says Raines. "For both Rickey and me, the jump is more important than the lead." Henderson's start is a traditional crossover step, which he claims is nothing more than "my cut and acceleration in football. My jump's a football jump." Raines begins with a unique swivel of his feet. "All I do is get in position for my old 100-yard-dash start," he says. Each is. in gear in one stride, Henderson even lower to the ground than Raines, and each reaches the next base in 3.1 or 3.2 seconds. Brock says that Raines "accelerates into the bag harder than any base stealer ever." Raines will dive headfirst only if the play is close; otherwise, he'll slide feet-first so that he can pop back up and proceed to third should the ball bounce away. Henderson prefers to go headfirst. "I made that slide fashionable," says Henderson. "I learned it in Triple A from a teammate named Michael Rodriguez. I kept being told, 'You can't do it that way,' but I did. Now almost everyone does it that way." Henderson's slide is longer than Raines's and so strong that sometimes he'll soar right over the bag and have to catch it with his feet.

"They are built perfectly for their art." says Boros, a longtime student of running who managed Henderson in Oakland and coached Raines in Montreal. "So is Coleman. Having the low center of gravity is important. It's a lot tougher for a Willie Wilson or a Willie Davis to keep it up, year after year.

"Rickey and Tim both downplay how much they study opposing pitchers, but they have great powers of observation, which enable them to read pitchers and time their jumps." When they are caught stealing, it's usually because they are picked off. Raines has stolen 434 bases in his career and has been thrown out by catchers only 32 times. He has been nailed by catchers only three times this year, and one of those times he was safe but overslid the bag. In his 1� seasons in New York, Henderson has been thrown out by catchers just eight times.

Raw speed is not the only superhuman trait they possess. They both need tremendous strength to put up with the physical toll of constantly sliding and diving. Raines, surprisingly, didn't suffer his first base stealing injury until July 11 of this year, when he jammed and bruised his knee. Still, he admits, "My body gets awfully tired and battered." Henderson has had jammed and separated shoulders, bruised wrists and arms, numerous stiff necks and an ankle so battered in 1984 that he required foam padding on it for two months. "Some people knocked Rickey last year for not playing every game," says teammate Don Mattingly. "But he needs days off. He runs around centerfield. The pounding he takes on the bases astounds me. I play first base and don't run, so I don't need days off. But he sure does." Henderson concedes, "I've got to do extra stretching, sit-ups, push-ups and some Nautilus weights for my shoulders just to maintain the strength I've got to have."

Each has learned to deal with a variety of defensive strategies, some more ethical than others. For instance, two or three teams in each league water down first base, causing runners to get a slower jump. "The science against stealing has evolved radically in the last four or five years," says Boros. "That has made it tougher than ever to steal. Pitchers have quicker deliveries, step off and quick-pitch, hold the ball. Catchers pitch out much more often. Now you've got pitching coaches with stopwatches timing pitchers' deliveries, while other coaches are timing catchers' throws to second base. Mostly because of these two guys."

While they made their names running, Henderson and Raines do so much more. "I won't like it if Coleman or someone else beats my record," says Henderson. "I still want to beat Brock's record and be the first to steal 1,000. But it's different now, especially playing with the Yankees. There's purpose to my stealing. I took more chances in Oakland because we didn't have the same kind of hitting."

"If I went out just to steal, I could steal 150 or 170 bases," says Raines. "But I don't steal bases for myself. I'm a situational base runner. When I was young, I could always hit, and that's the way I look at myself."

Raines takes his hitting very seriously. With a .302 career average, he finished third in the NL at .320 last year, and this season he is third at .334. "I looked to Joe Morgan as my idol," he says of the great second baseman, "mainly because of my size and the fact that I then was an in-fielder. And Joe Morgan could hit." When Raines played at Denver in 1980, he kept a George Brett picture over his locker, and his devotion to the Charlie Lau school of hitting is evident in his stance—on his toes in a crouch, bat straight back. "There's absolutely no way one can pitch to him," says Expo reliever Jeff Reardon.

Raines's real goal is to lead the league in hitting. "I think I can get into the .360-.370 area," he says. Last fall, he went to the Instructional League to work on his bunting because, he says, "If I can push a few bunts past the pitcher, it'll bring the shortstop in a step and add that much more to my hitting."

Continue Story
1 2 3