Remembering Rickey Henderson’s earliest walk-off moments

To kill time and have a little fun this offseason, I’m covering the walk-off beat. I’m documenting stories of not-well-remembered baseball walk-offs. Scan through the other ones I’ve done and you’ll see stories on the likes of players ranging from Ted Williams and Adrian Beltre to former 1969 Met Ed Charles. Is there someone you’d like me to write up? Send me a tweet

I was listening to an ESPN 30-for-30 podcast about the end of baseball legend Rickey Henderson’s pro baseball career. With MLB teams unwilling to sign Henderson, he decided to play in the Golden Baseball League, an independent league based on the West Coast.

The podcast detailed how Henderson fared and what it was like to watch an icon’s final days in that 2005 season (spoiler alert: Henderson had a .456 on-base percentage and San Diego won the league championship).

But what if I told you about a neat tidbit from the earliest days of Rickey Henderson’s MLB career? In 1979, he debuted with an otherwise highly-forgettable Oakland Athletics squad that went 54-108 under Jim Marshall (Billy Martin improved the team by 29 wins in 1980).

One of the first times that Rickey was really being Rickey was in a three-week stretch in late August and early September, when he hit .338 with an .829 OPS and seven stolen bases in 17 games. The Athletics went 10-7 in that run.

Among the games was a 4-3 win over the White Sox in which Henderson was 3-for-5 with three extra-base hits and three runs scored. He noted after the game that each hit came against a different pitch Henderson led off the 10th inning with a triple to right center against a Mike Proly slider. After a pair of intentional walks, Jeff Newman hit a ground ball that was booted by the White Sox shortstop, scoring Henderson with the winning run.

How cool is this quote from a humble Henderson after the game? “There are some things I want to achieve and my teammates are helping me as much as (they) can, but I have to bear down to make it happen.”

Here’s the punchline: That game took place on September 7, 1979.

That’s the same day ESPN made its debut.

PS: Henderson recorded his first career walk-off RBI the next day, drawing a bases-loaded walk against Proly in the ninth inning. Alas, not many were there to see it. The attendance for Henderson’s first walk-off RBI was 1,596.

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