From 1979 to 2003, Rickey Henderson stole an all-time best 1,406 bases: 1,270 in the American League (AL) and 136—in the National League (NL). Those 25 summer seasons are remarkable, but what about his three «winter seasons» in the 1978-79 Mexican Pacific League (MXPL) and 1979-81 Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) campaigns, not to mention Independent Leagues, big-league playoffs, World Series, and 10 AL-NL All-Star Games? The focus of this blog is on Rickey’s Caribbean baseball experience, including the February 1979 Caribbean Series, hosted by San Juan, Puerto Rico (PR) but his entire pro baseball body of work will be highlighted.
From February 4-9, 1979, the author was «plugged into» the Caribbean Series, at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, via radio from his Hato Rey, PR apartment. He rooted for the Caguas Criollos, reinforced by DH Tony Pérez and reliever Tim Stoddard, from his beloved Santurce Crabbers. But the player who impressed him the most was Rickey Henderson, a 20-year-old LF with Mexico’s Mayos de Navojoa. For this blog, he is «Rickey,» the «third person» used by this Cooperstown Hall of Famer, Class of 2009. The author attended Rickey’s Cooperstown Induction Ceremony on July 26, 2009, three decades post-1979 Caribbean Series.
Rickey Paces Navojoa to MXPL Crown
After stealing 81 bases for the 1978 Jersey City A’s, Class AA Eastern League, Rickey flew to Mexico’s Sonora Region to play for Navojoa. Mario Mendoza, veteran shortstop and Rickey’s teammate took a liking to the 19-year-old: «Rickey fit in nicely with us,» recalled Mendoza, the 1994 Midland Angels manager, when he spoke to the author in Jackson, Mississippi. «He mainly played CF for us in the regular season and league playoffs; he covered a lot of ground. Rickey saw a lot of breaking balls that winter—that was very helpful for him.» Navojoa’s primary line-up was:
- Ramón Hernández—2B
- Jeff Leonard—LF
- Jim Obradovich—1B
- Carlos Rivera—3B
- Leo Guerrero—DH
- Gary Hancock—RF
- Mario Mendoza—SS
- Juan Treviño—C
Their five-man rotation comprised: Angel Moreno, Enrique Moreno, Antonio Pollorena, Arturo González, and Randy Niemann. https://www.debate.com.mx/deporteamateur/Cuando-Rickey-Henderson-vino-a-jugar-con-Mayos-de-Navojoa-20200512-0324.html Rickey stole 22 bases and scored 22 runs in 44 games. Mazatlán’s Rudy Law led the loop with 31 steals. Rickey’s MXPL stats—plus his other pro stats—are in Table I.
Table I: Rickey’s Hitting Stats, MXPL, PRWL, Caribbean Series, Minors, AL-NL, Independent
|World Series (3)||14||56||12||19||5||2||2||6||.339||10||8|
!Big-League Record. #ALDS, ALCS, NLDS, NLCS. Sources: Baseball Reference and Baseball Almanac. http://scoredeportes.com.mx/?p=11848 Rafael Costas, Enciclopedia Béisbol Ponce Leones, 1938-1987. Rickey Henderson y su paso por Mayos de Navojoa (elfildeo.com)
Ricky: Only Navojoa All-Star, 1979 Caribbean Series
Willie Horton was player-manager for the 1978-79 Magallanes Navigators, who won the 1979 Caribbean Series at 5-1, followed by Águilas Cibaeñas (LIDOM), 4-2 W-L; then, 2-4 Caguas Criollos, and 1-5 Navojoa, who were competitive in four contests, winning one. «I played for Mayagüez, the mid-1960s, when many of my Detroit teammates played for them, in Puerto Rico,» said Horton. «I was a DH by the late 1970s and Magallanes gave me a chance to manage them. Salaries were good [in Venezuela] due to the oil boom. Rodney Scott and Mitchell Page came to play for us. Rickey Henderson was a tough out for Mexico and had a great career…»
Johnny Lipon, who managed Águilas Cibaeñas, once managed the 1963-64 and 1964-65 Ponce Lions, when Horton played LF for Mayagüez. He managed four seasons in Venezuela; and two apiece, LIDOM and Colombia. «I agreed with Branch Rickey’s philosophy,» noted Lipon. «The more one played, the better one became.» Lipon felt the excitement of winter ball plus the confidence factor was suitable for players. He noted an extra-inning game when Ponce’s Sonny Siebert came on in relief and fanned San Juan’s (SJ) Roberto Clemente with the bases loaded. «It was a turning point in his [Siebert’s] career.» Table II lists the Caribbean Series All-Star Team.
Table II: 1979 Caribbean Series All-Star Team
|Nelson Norman||Águilas Cibaeñas||SS|
Source: Tony Piña Campora work papers.
Rickey’s four SB in six games, February 4-9, 1979, tied a Caribbean Series record held by:
- Chuck «Rifleman» Connors, Almendares (Cuba), 1949
- Sam Bankhead, Spur Cola (Panamá), 1949
- Leon Kellman, Spur Cola, 1949
- Solly Drake, Marianao (Cuba), 1957
- Gonzalo Márquez, Magallanes (Venezuela), 1970.
Luis Salazar, Caracas Lions (1982) and Leonel Carrión, Zulia Eagles (1984) also had four SB. Then, Henry Cotto, 1986-87 Caguas Criollos, stole six bases in the February 1987 Caribbean Series, hosted by Hermosillo, Mexico, to set the record, one in place for the past 45 years.
Ogden, Utah to Oakland, to Ponce, PR, plus 1992 Oriole Park at Camden Yards
José A. Pagán managed Rickey with the 1979 Ogden A’s (AAA-PCL), until his promotion to Oakland, when he made his AL debut on June 24, 1979. Pagán, a native of Barceloneta, PR, was one «hero» of Game 7, 1971 World Series, with an 8th-inning double off Miguel Cuéllar, (Roberto Clemente got another RBI, a 4th inning-HR in Pittsburgh’s 2-1 win over Baltimore.) Pagán managed the 1979-80 Ponce Lions and suggested that Rickey reinforce them for the upcoming winter season. The author later interviewed Rickey at Oriole Park at Camden Yards; pre-May 19, 1992 game: Oakland at Baltimore. https://www.baseball-almanac.com/boxscores/boxscore.php?boxid=199205190BAL
«Pagán helped me in my career,» said Rickey. «I was in the minors trying to get my way to the big leagues and went to winter ball with guys older than me. It showed me a lot of what it took to get to the big leagues and was good for my career.»
1979-80 Ponce Lions
Ponce (27-33) finished fifth of six teams, missing the playoffs by one game. Santurce (36-24) was managed by Frank Robinson, with Art Howe directing Bayamón (33-26). Mayagüez (29-31) was third, followed by Arecibo (28-32). Caguas (26-33) finished last. Rickey was joined in Ponce’s OF by Ponce native Gilberto Flores and NY Yankees prospect Bobby Brown. In 39 games, Rickey went 43-for-145, scoring 26 times, with 19 steals and seven CS. His .297 BA was second on the team to Brown’s .302, but it was Flores who befriended Rickey.
«Rickey and I would travel together to road games,» said Flores. «Sometimes we’d go out to a disco, have a bite to eat. Rickey was well taken care of by the team owner [José «Chiro» Cangiano.]
Cangiano was A-OK with Rickey living in a condo, in Isla Verde—a tourist section straddling San Juan and Carolina, where the author was a City Planner, in 1979. Ponce’s prior owner—Yuyo González (1961-62 to 1977-78)—requested that the Lions’ «imports» reside in Ponce, to interact with the local citizenry. By the late-1970s, imports (mostly Stateside players) could travel to Ponce, from San Juan, on the «Autopista» (expressway), in rental cars. They received meal money plus their salary. Rickey’s 1979 Oakland (annual) salary was $21,000; it increased to $30,000 ($5,000/month) for the 1980 AL season. With Ponce, Rickey probably earned $5,000/month for 1979-80, with a boost to $10,000/month, in 1980-81. According to anecdotal research by the author, Rickey and Santurce’s Willie Aikens were the «highest-paid league imports,» for 1980-81. Cangiano also gave Rickey extra cash for each SB, e.g., $20 per SB.
Historic 1980-81 Season
In October 1980, Pedro Carlos Lugo, a Ponce, Puerto Rico sportswriter-baseball commentator, wrote his assessment of the 1980-81 Ponce Lions: «Rickey Henderson, the man who took Ty Cobb out of the American League record books for most stolen bases in a season (100 in 1980), will return to Ponce … and destroy Carlos Bernier’s single-season mark in the Puerto Rico League.» Rickey swiped 44 bases (in 48 games) for Ponce. Table III includes Rickey’s 1980-81 BA and SB for Ponce. Table IV lists PRWL single-season SB leaders: 1938-39 through 2021-22.
Table III: 1980-81 PRWL BA, SB, and RBI Leaders
|Dickie Thon||BAY||.329||Rickey Henderson||PON||44||Rusty Torres||MAY||41|
|Rudy Law||SAN||.311||Rudy Law||SAN||24||Willie Aikens||SAN||38|
|Rickey Henderson||PON||.298||Iván de Jesús||SAN||14||Bobby Clark||BAY||38|
|Bobby Clark||BAY||.294||Dickie Thon||BAY||14||Cal Ripken Jr.||CAG||38|
|Candy Maldonado||ARE||.293||Mookie Wilson||ARE||12||Jimmy Rosario||BAY||35|
ARE=Arecibo, BAY=Bayamón, CAG=Caguas, MAY=Mayagüez, PON=Ponce, SAN=Santurce.
Source: José A. Crescioni Benítez, El Béisbol Profesional Boricua, 1997.
Rickey stated: he «continued playing winter ball because it kept you sharp, kept you learning about pitcher’s moves and what you’re going to do on the basepaths. I went down there and stole many bases, and read the pitchers well.» file:///C:/Users/tvanh/Downloads/BRJ-1992-v21-NEW%20(1).pdf Gil Flores remembers, «I hit after Rickey in the batting order much of the season [in the record-breaking game, Flores hit third]. I helped him a lot by taking pitches so he could steal more bases.» Flores noted Ponce SS David Roselló did «not want Rickey to break Bernier’s single-season SB record.» It happened on January 3, 1981, at Ponce’s Paquito Montaner Stadium. Santurce catcher Gary Allenson maintained: «Rickey was out (at second), no question about it, but he could have moonwalked into third» for SB #43. On January 6, Rickey played for the Isla (Island) All-Star Team (Arecibo-Mayagüez-Ponce) versus Metro All-Stars (Caguas-SJ-Santurce). He received a plaque for breaking Bernier’s single-season SB mark.
Table IV: PRWL SB Leaders, 1938-39 to 2021-22
|Dick Seay||H-1938-39||33||Rickey Henderson||P-1980-81||44|
|Tetelo Vargas||G-1939-40||33||Samarito Vega||C-81-82||22|
|Tetelo Vargas||G-1940-41||21||Alan Wiggins||P-82-83||26|
|Buster Clarkson||M-41-42||18||Henry Cotto||C-83-84||24|
|Juan Sánchez||M-42-43||11||Vince Coleman||M-84-85||30|
|Pancho Coímbre||P-43-44||20||Skeeter Barnes||SJ-85-86||23|
|Alfonso Gerard||S-44-45||12||Joey Cora||P-86-87||29|
|Sam Bankhead||P-45-46||12||John Cangelosi||M-87-88||19|
|Fernando Pedroso||P-46-47||19||Lonnie Smith||SJ-88-89||28|
|Coco Ferrer||S-46-47||19||Albert Hall||S-1989-90||22|
|Canena Márquez||AG-47-48||20||Alex Díaz||M-1990-91||17|
|Canena Márquez||AG-48-49||29||Pedro Muñoz||M-1990-91||17|
|Carlos Bernier||M-1949-50||41||Paul Faries||M-91-92||20|
|Carlos Bernier||M-1950-51||28||Gerald Williams||S-92-93||14|
|Carlos Bernier||M-51-52||19||José “Chepito” Muñoz||AR-93-94||14|
|Carlos Bernier||M-52-53||26||Ray Durham||AR-94-95||18|
|Canena Márquez||M-53-54||32||Ricky Otero||AR-95-96||17|
|Jim Rivera||C-54-55||14||James Mouton||S-96-97||20|
|Carlos Bernier||M-P-55-56||18||José “Pito” Hernández||M-97-98||11|
|Nino Escalera||SJ-56-57||15||Alex Díaz||M-98-99||21|
|Maury Wills||M-57-58||25||Luis Matos||C-1999-00||14|
|Joe Christopher||M-58-59||17||Hiram Bocachica||C-2000-01||13|
|Félix Mantilla||C-1959-60||23||Luis “Wicho” Figueroa||M-01-02||11|
|Joe Christopher||M-1960-61||11||Gabriel Martínez||P-02-03||12|
|Joe Gaines||SJ-61-62||15||Brian Roberts||P-02-03||12|
|Joe Christopher||M-62-63||20||Donzell McDonald||SJ-03-04||13|
|Joe Christopher||M-63-64||16||Andrés Torres||M-04-05||11|
|Sandy Alomar Sr.||AR-64-65||17||Rubén Gotay||CAR-05-06||12|
|Sandy Alomar Sr.||AR-65-66||18||Luis Matos||C-06-07||16|
|Jaime Rosario||AR-66-67||17||Reggie Abercrombie||P-08-09||15|
|Ed Stroud||SJ-M 67-68||14||Brad Coon||CAR-2009-10||8|
|Sandy Alomar Sr.||P-1968-69||14||Danny Espinosa||P-10-11||9|
|Sandy Alomar Sr.||P-1969-70||14||Reymond Fuentes||CAR-11-12||8|
|Fred Patek||SJ-1970-71||14||Christian Colón||P-12-13||13|
|Sandy Alomar Sr.||P-71-72||10||Billy Hamilton||S-13-14||11|
|José “Pepe” Mangual||P-72-73||17||John Andreoli||SJ-14-15||9|
|Larry Lintz||P-73-74||25||Delino DeShields||S-14-15||9|
|Ken Griffey Sr.||B-74-75||15||Rubén Sosa||S-15-16||16|
|Sandy Alomar Sr.||S-75-76||14||Andrew Velázquez||C-16-17||14|
|Ellis Valentine||P-75-76||14||Jeff Domínguez||CAR-17-18||7|
|Tony Scott||C-76-77||25||Reymond Fuentes||S-18-19||7|
|Ron Leflore||M-77-78||34||Johneshwy Fargas||CAR-2019-20||8|
|José “Cheo” Cruz||C-78-79||21||Johneshwy Fargas||C-2020-21||7|
|Mookie Wilson||A-1979-80||28||Johneshwy Fargas||C-21-22||11|
AG=Aguadilla, AR=Arecibo, B=Bayamón, C=Caguas, CAR=Carolina, H=Humacao, M=Mayagüez, P=Ponce, S=Santurce, SJ=San Juan. Source: https://beisbol101.com/lideres-por-temporada/
Dairón Blanco, from Florida, Cuba, had 23 SB in 42 games for 2022-23 Ponce, through December 28, 2022. https://www.ligapr.com/estadisticas-regular-2022-2023/ Blanco set a league mark for most SB in a 50-game season. His 5.5 SB/10 games, fall short of Rickey’s 9.2 SB/10 games for 1980-81 Ponce. Table V lists the 1980-81 PRWL All-Star Team.
Table V: PRWL 1980-81 All-Star Team
|Cal Ripken Jr.||CAG||3B|
|José M. Morales||MAY||DH|
Source: Thomas E. Van Hyning, Puerto Rico’s Winter League, McFarland, 1995.
Tables VI-IX highlight Rickey’s legacy. He was a 3x Silver Slugger winner; 2x World Series champ (1989 Oakland, 1993 Toronto); 1981 Gold Glove Winner, and 1990 AL MVP.
Table VI: MXPL Cooperstown Inductees, 1972-2020
Table VII: PRWL Cooperstown Inductees, 1942-2022
|Player-Mgr.-Other||PRWL Teams-Other||PRWL Seasons||Year|
|Rogers Hornsby||Ponce mgr.||1950-51||1942|
|Roy Campanella||Caguas, Santurce, SJ||1940-42, 44-45, 46-47||1969|
|Satchel Paige||Guayama, Santurce||1939-41, 47-48||1971|
|Joshua Gibson||Santurce player-mgr.||1939-40, 41-42, 45-46||1972|
|Sandy Koufax||Caguas-Rio Piedras||1956-67||1972|
|Roberto Clemente||Santurce, Caguas, SJ||1952-58, 59-62, 63-65, 67-68, 1969-71||1973|
|Monte Irvin||SJ||1940-42, 45-47||1973|
|Frank Robinson||Ponce, Santurce mgr.||1954-55, 1968-71, 72-75, 78-80||1982|
|Buck Canel#||Caguas Broadcaster||1947-50||1985|
|Ray Dandridge||Santurce||1941-42, 1953-54||1987|
|Phil Rizzuto||SJ Broadcaster||1959-60||1994|
|Jim Bunning||Caguas mgr.||1974-76||1996|
|Earl Weaver||Santurce mgr.||1966-68||1996|
|Tommy Lasorda||Mayagüez, Santurce, Caguas||1952-57||1997|
|Phil Niekro||Arecibo, Mayagüez||1961-62, 63-64||1997|
|Orlando Cepeda||Santurce||1955-62, 63-65, 66-68, 1971-72, 74-75||1999|
|Sparky Anderson||SJ mgr.||1968-69||2000|
|Tony Pérez||Santurce||1964-68, 1970-71, 72-73, 78-80, 82-83||2000|
|Felo Ramírez#||Arecibo-SJ broadcaster||1960s||2001|
|Raymond Brown||Santurce, SJ, Ponce||1938-42, 46-47||2006|
|Willard Brown||Humacao, Santurce||1941-42, 1946-54, 1956||2006|
|Tony Gwynn||Bayamón, SJ||1982-84||2007|
|Cal Ripken Jr.||Caguas||1980-82||2007|
|Rich Gossage||Ponce||1972-73, 74-75||2008|
|Roberto Alomar||Caguas, Ponce, SJ, Santurce||1985-88, 1989-91, 1993-97, 2004-05||2011|
|Iván Rodríguez||Caguas, Bayamón, Mayagüez, Ponce||1989-2009 (12 seasons); reinforced Arecibo in 1996 Caribbean Series.||2017|
|Edgar Martínez||SJ||1984-88, 1989-92, 1993-96||2019|
Clemente: 1964-65 player-mgr.; 1970-71 mgr. #Ford Frick Award. Source: https://beisbol101.com/from-puerto-rico-to-cooperstown/
Table VIII: Rickey’s SB Rankings for Oakland A’s, NY Yankees, and SD Padres
|Oakland A’s||SB||NY Yankees||SB||SD Padres||SB|
|Rickey Henderson||867||Derek Jeter||358||Tony Gwynn||319|
|Campy Campaneris||566||Rickey Henderson||326||Gene Richards||242|
|Eddie Collins||377||Brett Gardner||274||Alan Wiggins||171|
|Bill North||232||Willie Randolph||251||Bip Roberts||148|
|Harry Davis||223||Hal Chase||248||Ozzie Smith||147|
|Topsy Hartsel||196||Roy White||233||Everth Cabrera||136|
|Rube Oldring||187||Ben Chapman||184||Dave Winfield||133|
|Danny Murphy||185||Wid Conroy||184||Will Venable||130|
|Home Run Baker||172||Fritz Maisel||183||Enzo Hernández||129|
|Coco Crisp||169||Mickey Mantle||153||Garry Templeton||101|
|Carney Lansford||146||Alex Rodríguez||152||Damian Jackson||100|
|Reggie Jackson||145||Horace Clarke||151||Will Myers||94|
|Amos Strunk||144||Roberto Kelly||151||Luis Salazar||93|
|Rajai Davis||142||Phil Rizzuto||149||Rickey Henderson||91|
|José Canseco||135||Tony Lazzeri||147||Roberto Alomar||90|
Sources: mlb.com for three franchises.
Table IX: Rickey’s SB Stats, MXPL, PRWL, Caribbean
Series, Minors, AL-NL, Independent Leagues
#ALCS, ALDS, NLCS, NLDS. Same sources as Table I.
This is interesting. https://www.mlb.com/news/10-incredible-rickey-henderson-stats
Henry Cotto was a Caguas rookie, 1980-81, and—1985-1986-1987—Rickey’s NY Yankees teammate. Cotto got more 1987 playing time due to Rickey’s injuries. Cotto respected Rickey’s flair, style of play, and demeanor. He noted, in 1993, how vital winter ball was to Don Mattingly, his 1983-84 Caguas teammate, and Ron Gant, his 1988-89 Criollos teammate.
Grateful acknowledgment to Rickey Henderson for his time and insights. Thanks to Gary Allenson, Henry Cotto, Gilberto Flores, Willie Horton, Johnny Lipon, and Mario Mendoza. Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League, did the editing-photo placements.