On This Date in Sports May 1, 1991: Man of Steal

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

With a stolen base in the fourth inning, Rickey Henderson of the Oakland Athletics becomes baseball's all-time leader in stolen bases. It is the 939th steal of Henderson's career, breaking the record that Lou Brock held for 16 years. The record-breaking stolen base comes with Tim Leary on the mound and Matt Nokes behind home plate for the New York Yankees, as Henderson steals third base. Rickey Henderson played until 2003, stealing 1,406 bases. A record that is unlikely to ever be approached.  

Born on Christmas Day in 1958, Rickey Henderson was raised in Oakland. He made his major league debut with his hometown team in 1979. That season in, he stole 33 bases in 89 games giving fans a preview of what was to come. One year later, Billy Martin took over as manager of the Athletics and encouraged an aggressive brand of baseball. That would give Rickey Henderson freedom to run, as he led the American League with 100 steals. Henderson again led the American League in 1981, stealing 56 in a season interrupted by a two-month strike. 

It was clear early in the 1982 season that Rickey Henderson was targeting Lou Brock’s single-season record. Stealing early and often, Rickey Henderson had swiped 84 bases by the All-Star Break. Henderson, known for showboating in the outfield, became one of the most infuriating players to face when he came to plate. Using an extreme crouch, Henderson was just as likely to reach base with a walk than a hit. With the number of bases, Rickey was stealing. It was like walking a double of a triple. The record-breaking swipe came against veteran pitcher Doc Medich in the third inning after walking. Rickey Henderson would finish the season with 130 stolen bases, which was more than the team total of nine of the other American League teams.

Rickey Henderson would steal 108 bases in 1983 as he led the American League in stolen bases 10 times in 11 seasons. The lone season in which he failed to lead the league was in 1987, when he missed a large chunk of the second half due to injuries while playing with the New York Yankees. That season he stole 41 bases and lost the crown to Harold Reynolds of the Seattle Mariners. 

Rickey Henderson regained the crown in 1988, as he led the American League 11 times in 12 seasons. In 1989, Henderson went home as he was traded back to the Oakland Athletics. Ironically Eric Plunk was involved in both deals. Rickey Henderson won the ALCS MVP that October as the A's won the World Series. In 1990, Rickey Henderson was named MVP as Oakland returned to the World Series. He ended the season two steals away from the record. 

Rickey Henderson got off to a slow start in 1991, as he spent most of April on the disabled list. Henderson equaled the record with a steal on April 28th against the California Angels. It was his second game after missing two weeks. Against his former team, Henderson did not steal a base on April 30th. On May 1st, he tried to break the record after a first-inning walk but was gunned down by Matt Nokes at second. After a strikeout in the second, Rickey Henderson reached base on an error by shortstop Alvaro Espinosa. After a single by Dave Henderson, Rickey was on the run, sliding safely into third base as Randy Velarde's tag was late. After breaking the record, Henderson grabbed the base as Lou Brock was on hand to congratulate the new record holder as the crowd at the Oakland Coliseum gave him a standing ovation. After declaring himself the greatest, Rickey Henderson scored as the Athletics beat the Yankees 7-4.

Rickey Henderson would play until 2003, stealing 1,406 bases. With steal bases being deemphasized, it is highly unlikely that the record will ever be approached, as Lou Brock's 938 steals remains second-best.