Year Inducted: 2009 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 511/539)
For many years, the main trait for a leadoff hitter was speed, followed by an ability to get on base. While that has changed more recently, it certainly has held true for most of baseball’s existence. Players like Lou Brock (who was a very good hitter, but never carried a high OBP) were more common than Matt Carpenter (who has a high OBP but little speed). Even less common were hitters that had power and could leadoff. Only one player in baseball history could hit, draw walks, hit for power, and steal bases out of the leadoff position. That was Rickey Henderson.
Henderson’s career spanned from 1979 until 2003, covering over 13000 plate appearances and more than 3000 games. While that does inflate some of his stats, it also makes what he did as the best leadoff hitter in history more impressive as he was worth at least 2.0 fWAR in all but seven seasons, and failed to register a wRC+ above league average only twice in his career. In all, The Man of Steal hit .279/.401/.419 with a wRC+ of 132. Rickey collected 3055 hits in his career, including 297 homers, 510 doubles and 66 triples. While he was mainly a leadoff hitter, his career high in RBI was 74 and he managed to knock in over 1100 runs in his career. Rickey was easily the greatest leadoff hitter in history.
Of course, while the bat was excellent, it was not the primary weapon in Henderson’s arsenal. Henderson used a very crouched stance at the plate, as it enabled him to see the ball better without sacrificing any power. It also flustered opposing pitchers, which helped Rickey draw an incredible 2190 walks in his career. The problem with walking Rickey was that he was the greatest baserunner ever. Henderson owns the records for most steals in a season (130) and a career (1406). The career record was more than 50% higher than the previous record holder’s value. Henderson was also worth 144.4 runs above average as a runner and scored 2295 runs in his career. When Rickey was on the bases, he truly was the greatest of all-time.
The accomplishments that Henderson had in his career are numerous. In addition to being in the 3000 hit club and career records in both steals and runs scored, Henderson was also the first player to have over 100 walks, steals and runs in the same season three times. Henderson led the league in steals 12 times, the last of which was in his age 39 season. He also led the league in runs scored five times, and walks four times. Rickey retired with over 100 fWAR in 2003, ranking 16th all-time.
Henderson was one of the easiest decisions of all-time for the BBWAA when it comes to the Hall of Fame. The greatest baserunner of all-time and the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time all in one player, Rickey was truly a legend.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck 12/12/16:
#17- The best third baseman ever
#16- One of the shortest sluggers of all-time