Rickey Knows Hitting
The last snapshot of Rickey Henderson’s stint as a Met in 1999 was during Game 6 of the NLCS at Turner Field, when Henderson and Bobby Bonilla – instead of sitting in the dugout – were hanging out in the clubhouse, playing cards.
With this memory having faded but not entirely disappeared, it’s with more than a tad bit of shock that we behold today’s news that the Mets have hired Rickey Henderson to be their new hitting coach.
Honestly, what’s going on here? Did they mean to extend an offer to Dave Henderson and accidentally dial the wrong man? Rickey was obviously an extraordinary player, but there’s absolutely nothing in his pedigree that suggests he’ll be a quality coach.
Remember that story about how Rickey once saw John Olerud wearing a helmet playing first base and commented that he’d once had a teammate who wore a helmet, at which point Olerud informed Rickey that he (Olerud) was that very teammate?
That story is actually a myth, but it’s founded on at least one small shred of truth: namely, that Rickey is not exactly known as the most diligent and focused individual on the planet.
And even if the Mets thought that in his late 40’s he may have evolved into someone who could be an incredibly hard-working and meticulous hitting coach, this is still an odd choice. Henderson’s greatest asset as an offensive player (other than his unbelievable speed and base-stealing ability) was his uncanny batting eye and ability to get on base. But it’s not like one person can easily impart how he was able to draw so many walks and be such a unique offensive weapon. To some extent it’s something you either have or you don’t.
A hitting coach’s greatest benefit to a team would be his ability to communicate about hitting mechanics, or passing along some timely piece of spiritual or philosophical wisdom about the science of hitting. But Rickey’s mechanics weren’t all that good, and his philosophy of being really, really good at getting on base can’t easily be put into words.
This is all a drawn out way of saying that this move is extremely questionable – a measure that reeks of desperation from a team that doesn’t exactly have a significant reason to be desperate (after all, the Mets are in still in first place in a rather weak division). Firing the hitting coach when your offense isn’t consistently clicking is one thing, but bringing in an absolute wild card who’s just as likely to start up a game of Canasta in the clubhouse with Julio Franco as he is to pay attention during late-game AB’s is nothing short of crazy.
To prove that this is madness, we’ve taken a glimpse into the future and can now provide you with a definitive timeline of how the Rickey Henderson coaching experience will unfold:
July 12, 2007: Rickey is hired as hitting coach.
July 13, 2007: Rickey shows up to work in 1980’s era Oakland A’s uniform, complete with white cleats and Carney Lansford-style moustache.
July 17, 2007: Rickey enters game as a pinch hitter, much to the surprise of everyone in the stadium, including Jose Reyes, who was scheduled to hit. Rickey is informed by home plate umpire Mark Carlson that he hasn’t been announced, and furthermore isn’t on the Mets’ roster. Nevertheless, Rickey stands in, draws a five-pitch walk, steals second and third and then scores on a groundout. The run does not count.
July 21, 2007: During a game against the Dodgers, Rickey runs out to left field as a late-inning defensive replacement, then decides he’s too good to be a late-inning defensive replacement, storms off the field and leaves the dugout in a huff before getting the keys to Willie Randolph’s car from the parking attendant and driving to Vancouver without so much as stopping to pee.
July 26, 2007: After David Wright hits a mammoth walk-off homer against Pittsburgh, Rickey comes out of the dugout, stands at home plate to salute the big fly, and then goes into a trot of his own. After he passes a confused Wright rounding second base, the Mets third baseman is called out according to Official Rule 7.08 (h).
August 12, 2007: After showing up to the park wearing a bathrobe and a bicycle helmet, a clearly exhausted and overwhelmed Henderson is replaced as hitting coach by Weird Al Yankovic. Rickey is demoted to clubhouse manager, where he, Bobby Bonilla and Dom DeLuise commence an epic game of Gin Rummy that alters the course of baseball history forever.