Rickey Henderson—Man of Steal—starred in Mexico (1978-79) and Puerto Rico (1979-81)

Rickey Henderson at Puerto Rico´s All Star Game

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:

  • Rickey—CF
  • 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.

Rickey Henderson with the Mayos de Navojoa

Table I: Rickey’s Hitting Stats, MXPL, PRWL, Caribbean Series, Minors, AL-NL, Independent

Minors (6)3961381311446591917157.323279218
MXPL (1)44175224541 11.257NANA
PRWL (2)873135993104224.2986432
Caribbean Series623 8    .348  
Majors (25)3081109612295!3055510662971115.27921901694
World Series (3)145612195226.339108
AL All-Star102437   1.29224

!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

Baudilio DíazMagallanesC
Mitchell PageMagallanes1B
Rodney ScottMagallanes2B
Dave ColemanMagallanes3B
Nelson NormanÁguilas CibaeñasSS
Rickey HendersonNavojoaLF
Jerry WhiteMagallanesCF
Oswaldo OlivaresMagallanesRF
Tony PérezCaguasDH
Mike NorrisMagallanesRHP
Sheldon BurnsideCaguasLHP
Willie HortonMagallanesMGR

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 ThonBAY.329Rickey HendersonPON44Rusty TorresMAY41
Rudy LawSAN.311Rudy LawSAN24Willie AikensSAN38
Rickey HendersonPON.298Iván de JesúsSAN14Bobby ClarkBAY38
Bobby ClarkBAY.294Dickie ThonBAY14Cal Ripken Jr.CAG38
Candy MaldonadoARE.293Mookie WilsonARE12Jimmy RosarioBAY35

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 SeayH-1938-3933Rickey HendersonP-1980-8144
Tetelo VargasG-1939-4033Samarito VegaC-81-8222
Tetelo VargasG-1940-4121Alan WigginsP-82-8326
Buster ClarksonM-41-4218Henry CottoC-83-8424
Juan SánchezM-42-4311Vince ColemanM-84-8530
Pancho CoímbreP-43-4420Skeeter BarnesSJ-85-8623
Alfonso GerardS-44-4512Joey CoraP-86-8729
Sam BankheadP-45-4612John CangelosiM-87-8819
Fernando PedrosoP-46-4719Lonnie SmithSJ-88-8928
Coco FerrerS-46-4719Albert HallS-1989-9022
Canena MárquezAG-47-4820Alex DíazM-1990-9117
Canena MárquezAG-48-4929Pedro MuñozM-1990-9117
Carlos BernierM-1949-5041Paul FariesM-91-9220
Carlos BernierM-1950-5128Gerald WilliamsS-92-9314
Carlos BernierM-51-5219José “Chepito” MuñozAR-93-9414
Carlos BernierM-52-5326Ray DurhamAR-94-9518
Canena MárquezM-53-5432Ricky OteroAR-95-9617
Jim RiveraC-54-5514James MoutonS-96-9720
Carlos BernierM-P-55-5618José “Pito” HernándezM-97-9811
Nino EscaleraSJ-56-5715Alex DíazM-98-9921
Maury WillsM-57-5825Luis MatosC-1999-0014
Joe ChristopherM-58-5917Hiram BocachicaC-2000-0113
Félix MantillaC-1959-6023Luis “Wicho” FigueroaM-01-0211
Joe ChristopherM-1960-6111Gabriel MartínezP-02-0312
Joe GainesSJ-61-6215Brian RobertsP-02-0312
Joe ChristopherM-62-6320Donzell McDonaldSJ-03-0413
Joe ChristopherM-63-6416Andrés TorresM-04-0511
Sandy Alomar Sr.AR-64-6517Rubén GotayCAR-05-0612
Sandy Alomar Sr.AR-65-6618Luis MatosC-06-0716
Jaime RosarioAR-66-6717Reggie AbercrombieP-08-0915
Ed StroudSJ-M 67-6814Brad CoonCAR-2009-108
Sandy Alomar Sr.P-1968-6914Danny EspinosaP-10-119
Sandy Alomar Sr.P-1969-7014Reymond FuentesCAR-11-128
Fred PatekSJ-1970-7114Christian ColónP-12-1313
Sandy Alomar Sr.P-71-7210Billy HamiltonS-13-1411
José “Pepe” MangualP-72-7317John AndreoliSJ-14-159
Larry LintzP-73-7425Delino DeShieldsS-14-159
Ken Griffey Sr.B-74-7515Rubén SosaS-15-1616
Sandy Alomar Sr.S-75-7614Andrew VelázquezC-16-1714
Ellis ValentineP-75-7614Jeff DomínguezCAR-17-187
Tony ScottC-76-7725Reymond FuentesS-18-197
Ron LefloreM-77-7834Johneshwy FargasCAR-2019-208
José “Cheo” CruzC-78-7921Johneshwy FargasC-2020-217
Mookie WilsonA-1979-8028Johneshwy FargasC-21-2211

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

Junior OrtizCAGC
Willie AikensSAN1B
Luis AguayoBAY2B
Cal Ripken Jr.CAG3B
Dickie ThonBAYSS
Rickey HendersonPONLF
Candy MaldonadoARECF
Rusty TorresMAYRF
José M. MoralesMAYDH
Dave SmithBAYP

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

Source: http://scoredeportes.com.mx/?p=11848

Table VII: PRWL Cooperstown Inductees, 1942-2022

Player-Mgr.-Other PRWL Teams-OtherPRWL SeasonsYear
Rogers HornsbyPonce mgr.1950-511942
Roy CampanellaCaguas, Santurce, SJ1940-42, 44-45, 46-471969
Satchel PaigeGuayama, Santurce1939-41, 47-481971
Joshua GibsonSanturce player-mgr.1939-40, 41-42, 45-461972
Sandy KoufaxCaguas-Rio Piedras1956-671972
Buck LeonardMayagüez1940-411972
Roberto ClementeSanturce, Caguas, SJ1952-58, 59-62, 63-65, 67-68,  1969-711973
Monte IrvinSJ1940-42, 45-471973
Oscar CharlestonUmpire1946-471976
Willie MaysSanturce1954-551979
Bob GibsonSanturce1961-621981
Hank AaronCaguas1953-541982
Frank RobinsonPonce, Santurce mgr.1954-55, 1968-71, 72-75, 78-801982
Buck Canel#Caguas Broadcaster1947-501985
Ray DandridgeSanturce1941-42, 1953-541987
Jim PalmerSanturce1968-691989
Johnny BenchSJ1967-681990
Ferguson JenkinsCaguas1964-661991
Reggie JacksonSanturce1970-711993
Steve CarltonPonce1965-671994
Phil RizzutoSJ Broadcaster1959-601994
Leon DayAguadilla1940-421995
Mike SchmidtCaguas1972-741995
Jim BunningCaguas mgr.1974-761996
Earl WeaverSanturce mgr.1966-681996
Tommy LasordaMayagüez, Santurce, Caguas1952-571997
Phil NiekroArecibo, Mayagüez1961-62, 63-641997
Willie WellsAguadilla1941-421997
Larry DobySJ1946-471998
Orlando CepedaSanturce1955-62, 63-65, 66-68, 1971-72, 74-751999
Nestor ChylakUmpire1954-551999
Robin YountSanturce1974-751999
Sparky AndersonSJ mgr.1968-692000
Tony PérezSanturce1964-68, 1970-71, 72-73, 78-80, 82-832000
Felo Ramírez#Arecibo-SJ broadcaster1960s2001
Hilton SmithPonce1947-482001
Gary CarterCaguas1973-752002
Eddie MurrayCaguas1976-792002
Bob Uecker#Arecibo1961-622003
Wade BoggsBayamón1981-822005
Raymond BrownSanturce, SJ, Ponce1938-42, 46-472006
Willard BrownHumacao, Santurce1941-42, 1946-54, 19562006
Jud WilsonHumacao1940-412006
Tony GwynnBayamón, SJ1982-842007
Cal Ripken Jr.Caguas1980-822007
Rich GossagePonce1972-73, 74-752008
Rickey HendersonPonce1979-812009
Doug HarveyUmpire1961-622010
Roberto AlomarCaguas, Ponce, SJ, Santurce1985-88, 1989-91, 1993-97, 2004-052011
Iván RodríguezCaguas, Bayamón, Mayagüez, Ponce1989-2009 (12 seasons); reinforced Arecibo in 1996 Caribbean Series.2017
Jack MorrisMayagüez1978-792018
Jim ThomePonce1992-932018
Edgar MartínezSJ1984-88, 1989-92, 1993-962019
Lee SmithSanturce1980-812019
Tony OlivaArecibo1963-642022

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’sSBNY YankeesSBSD PadresSB
Rickey Henderson867Derek Jeter358Tony Gwynn319
Campy Campaneris566Rickey Henderson326Gene Richards242
Eddie Collins377Brett Gardner274Alan Wiggins171
Bill North232Willie Randolph251Bip Roberts148
Harry Davis223Hal Chase248Ozzie Smith147
Topsy Hartsel196Roy White233Everth Cabrera136
Rube Oldring187Ben Chapman184Dave Winfield133
Danny Murphy185Wid Conroy184Will Venable130
Home Run Baker172Fritz Maisel183Enzo Hernández129
Coco Crisp169Mickey Mantle153Garry Templeton101
Carney Lansford146Alex Rodríguez152Damian Jackson100
Reggie Jackson145Horace Clarke151Will Myers94
Amos Strunk144Roberto Kelly151Luis Salazar93
Rajai Davis142Phil Rizzuto149Rickey Henderson91
José Canseco135Tony Lazzeri147Roberto Alomar90
  Bernie Williams147  

Sources: mlb.com for three franchises.

Table IX: Rickey’s SB Stats, MXPL, PRWL, Caribbean

Series, Minors, AL-NL, Independent Leagues

Caribbean Series64NANA6.7
World Series147277.85.0

#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.    

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