At long last, Rickey's number to be retired
Newly enshrined Hall of Famer will be at on-field ceremony
BOSTON -- A sly smile stretched across David Rinetti's face, the smile of a man hanging onto something special.
Walking through the bowels of Fenway Park this week, the director of stadium operations for the A's was asked what the club had in store for fans attending Saturday's game.
Before the second game of a three-game series against the visiting Blue Jays at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, what the A's hope to be a sellout crowd will witness a celebration of Rickey Henderson's Hall of Fame career, culminating with the retirement of Henderson's No. 24.
"It's top secret," Rinetti said.
What is known is that several of Henderson's friends and former teammates will be on hand Saturday, including former A's ace Dave Stewart, who was in Cooperstown, N.Y., over the weekend as a guest of Henderson.
Henderson and Stewart grew up together in Oakland and starred together for the A's, with whom Henderson made his big league debut in 1979. Henderson played for eight other organizations during his remarkable 25-year career, but he left and returned to the team three times. He entered Cooperstown wearing an A's cap on his plaque.
"Oakland is home," Henderson said. "Playing for the A's was one of my dreams when I was a young ballplayer, going to games at the Coliseum to see Reggie Jackson and all the other great players. ... I moved around [as a player], but the A's are my hometown team. I did a lot of what I did with the A's, broke some records there.
"I have a special bond with A's fans, because when they go to a game, it's the same thing I did when I was a kid. So to go get my number retired after all these years, it's something wonderful."
Henderson, a member of the 1989 A's team that swept the rival Giants in the World Series, was a multi-sport star at Oakland Tech High School before turning down a number of football scholarships to sign with his hometown team.
Over parts of 14 seasons in green and gold, Henderson assaulted the franchise record book like no other.
In 1982, while wearing No. 35, he obliterated the single-season record for stolen bases with 130 -- a record few baseball insiders expect to be broken.
After a stint with the Yankees in which he changed his number to 24 as an homage to Willie Mays, Henderson returned to the A's in a midseason trade in 1989 and helped them win their fourth title in Oakland history.
In 1990, he was named the American League's MVP after batting .325 with a career-high-tying 28 home runs, 119 runs scored and 65 stolen bases while leading the A's to the AL pennant.
A year later, in what's considered the crowning achievement in a career that ended with a total of 3,055 hits, 297 home runs, 1,115 RBIs and a .401 on-base percentage, Henderson broke Lou Brock's career record for stolen bases on the way to a way-out-of-reach career total of 1,406.
"I played to win the game, to win championships," Henderson said. "But to pass Lou Brock, the greatest basestealer of all time, and to do it in my hometown, that was wonderful. I'm probably the most proud about my [all-time] runs record [of 2,295], because that was my job as a leadoff hitter -- to score runs. But that moment, doing it in Oakland, with Lou Brock in the stands ...
"That was a day I'll never forget."
A's fans, still buzzing from Henderson's well-received induction speech in Cooperstown on Sunday, surely won't forget this Saturday.
Whatever Rinetti and the A's have in store, it can't help but be memorable. At long last, Henderson's number will be set aside, never to be worn again, as he joins Jackson himself among the handful of Athletics so honored.
"I love Oakland, I love the A's, and I love Oakland A's fans," Henderson said. "I've loved the fans everywhere I've been, but Oakland fans are different. They know me better than anyone, and they appreciate me more because I'm from where they're from. I'm one of them.
"To be back there and be honored, to go up there with Reggie and [fellow Hall of Fame players] Catfish [Hunter] and Rollie Fingers, all the greats, it's a pleasure. An honor. Something I never thought about growing up.
"I can't wait, man. It's going to be something great."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.