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On This Date in Sports August 27, 1982: Man of Steal

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Rickey Henderson of the Oakland Athletics sets the single-season base stealing record by swiping his 119th base at County Stadium against the Milwaukee Brewers. Lou Brock set the previous record of 118 stolen bases in 1974. Henderson would steal four bases in the game to increase the record to 122 as the Brewers beat Rickey’s A’s 5-4. Rickey Henderson would finish the season with 130 steals.

Born in Chicag0 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, 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.

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Early in the 1982 season, 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 when he came to the plate. Using an extreme crouch, Henderson was likelier to reach base with a walk than a hit. The number of bases that Rickey Henderson was stealing was like walking a double or 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 team total of nine of the 13 other American League teams.

Rickey Henderson would steal 108 bases in 1983 as he led the American League in stolen bases ten times in 11 seasons. The lone season in which he failed to lead the league was 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.

In 1991, Rickey Henderson, who had returned to Oakland in 1989, became the all-time stolen base leader by swiping the 939th base of his career. Rickey Henderson would end up playing 25 years in the majors. By the time his career ended, the stolen base was no longer in vogue as the steroid era had placed extra importance on the home run, making teams discourage taking too many chances on the bases. Still, Rickey Henderson continued to add to his record, and when his career ended in 2003, he finished with 1,406 steals. Nearly 500 more than Brock, who still ranks second all-time.

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