What do we have here?" says Rickey Henderson as he looks around for a clock on the clubhouse wall in the cramped visitors' quarters in Boston's Fenway Park. It is 5:25 p.m., still two hours until the game. Two hours until the next show.
"Check this," Henderson says, turning to examine the dense crowd of media people who have already jammed into the locker room. "This must be big time. Heh, heh, heh." His laugh is hoarse and scratchy, a kind of dirty-old-man's laugh.
"This is like the World Series," a reporter tells him.
"Is that right?" Henderson replies. "Heh, heh, heh."
It is the first night of a late-season three-game series between Henderson's Oakland Athletics and the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox, winners of 10 games in a row, lead the American League East by 6� games, and the Boston newspapers today have speculated on an A's-Red Sox league championship series. Ten feet from Henderson's locker, pitcher Dave Stewart is surrounded as he answers questions about his scheduled duel the next night with Red Sox ace Roger Clemens.
Henderson has an ice pack on one thigh. "It's been the hamstring, the groin," he says as he fiddles with his socks. "I haven't been right for more than a month. The season takes its toll. I'm not as young as I once was. Pulls don't go away as quickly. The grind really kicks in for a base stealer at this time of year: My wrists are sore, a couple of fingers are jammed, my hips ache, my shoulder's stiff, my knees are banged up.
"You want to do this, you pay the price. Some year I'd love to forget the basestealing and just go out and hit. Let my fingers and wrists and shoulders and knees have a year off, and I think I could hit .330, .340, with 30, maybe 35 home runs. But Rickey Henderson is expected to steal."
Two hours later Henderson stepped into the batter's box to begin the series. He hit a line drive off the Green Monster to start a five-run rally that would set the tone for an Oakland sweep and signal the beginning of a painful slump for the Red Sox. Later that evening Henderson stole a base, his 55th of the season and the 926th of his career, and hit his first Fenway Park home run. In the three games he reached base a total of nine times.
"How can anyone else even be considered for Most Valuable Player?" pitching coach Dave Duncan asked a writer. "Has anyone ever been at the top in so many categories?"
As of Sunday, Henderson was among the American League leaders in eight departments: batting (third), on-base percentage (first), runs (first), walks (third), home runs (sixth), slugging percentage (second), extra-base hits (fourth) and stolen bases (first). "And he's easily the best defensive leftfielder in the game," continued Duncan. "It's unbelievable what this man goes through, night after night, day after day. People don't appreciate the beating he takes running and diving and crashing into bases. It's amazing that he can produce the way he does. Then there's the mental part of it. Every night he's got the other team looking to get him. He's like the old gunfighter: He knows it, he loves it and he does it."