I may have touched a nerve with Sunday’s column that called out the A’s for their failure to retired Rickey Henderson’s jersey. One longtime A’s employee who I respect a ton said it was way off-base (I respectfully disagreed). Another employee sent me a letter that stated in part:
“Contrary to your comments, we have reached out to Rickey, but we have not been able to get him to commit. I wish you would have contacted us before you wrote the column so we could have given our side of the story. … As you you know, Rickey still hasn’t ‘officially retired.’ … We absolutely want to honor Rickey, but not until he is ready. We did honor Rickey last year by renovating a field in Oakland and naming it after him.”
(This same employee, by the way, had two opportunities to talk with me last night about this issue, and walked silently by me both times).
On those points:
1) I did try to talk to the A’s. Several weeks ago, Billy Beane excused my questions about honoring the team’s past and my one question about Henderson specifically with condescending statements that had nothing to do with the questions. Fine, that’s his perogative. I realize he has so much on his plate that issues such as this are way low on his totem pole. But he is the voice of the organization, and fans want to hear what he has to think. And in making an argument, I want to hear his opinion, not someone in the marketing department.
2) So what that Rickey hasn’t retired. If Roger Clemens can get $1 million per start and commute home in between, then a number can be retired when a player is still active. I’d consider such a gesture even more honoring, and you could convince said player of the same thing. Besides, as I stated in the column, even if Rickey makes a comeback, it’s become pretty apparent it won’t be with the A’s.
3) Kudos for naming a field after him. That’s not nearly in the same league as retiring a number.
4) As far as not getting Rickey to committ, I suggest setting a date (or dates). Then if Rickey doesn’t show, it reflects poorly on him. To me, the issue is simple. If the team really wanted to do something, it could. Also, folks I’ve talked to who are tight with Henderson have said the A’s are the problem. Don’t return calls, etc.
The bottom line is that it would close to impossible to convince me the A’s have the A’s have shown Rickey the appreciation he deserves. They haven’t asked him to be an instructor in camp or even during the regular season (a la the Mets, who have used Henderson to work with Jose Reyes). There is nothing to commemorate his record-breaking stolen base. He never shows up on the videoboard highlights (which by the way, show highlights of the 1970s champs every night).
In short, they present a picture to the outsider that Rickey is persona non grata in their organization. It’s certainly their perogative to do so, but they can’t be surprised when the are criticized for it.
Incidentally, I’d guess a lot of folks feel the way I do. For proof, check out this Web site.