Rickey Henderson put it all together this year performing in his hometown before fans "who keep me happy, make me feel like a kid playing again."
The Oakland Athletics' left fielder and leadoff man was at his happiest Tuesday as winner of the AL Most Valuable Player award, having edged Detroit slugger Cecil Fielder in the voting by members of the Baseball Writers Association.Henderson had 14 of the 28 first-place votes and 317 points. Fielder, the first major leaguer since 1977 to crack the 50-homer mark, had 10 first-place votes and 286 points.
"I haven't been as excited since I broke Lou Brock's (single-season) stolen base record," Henderson said at a news conference, referring to the 1982 season in which he went past Brock's old record of 118 steals and finished with 130.
"My next big moment will be when I break Brock's all-time record," he added.
That probably will come in the opening week of next season. Henderson's total of 936 steals over 111/2 seasons is two short of Brock's record. His 32nd birthday is next month. Brock was 40 years old when he stole his 938th base in 1979.
Henderson, whose career batting average is .293, hit only .267 while running wild on the basepaths in 1982. In 1986, playing with the New York Yankees, he hit a career-high 28 homers but batted just .263. He returned to the A's in a 1989 mid-season trade and helped them go on to the World Series title.
This season, Henderson matched his career-high home run total and had a career-high .325 batting average to go with it. He also won his 10th stolen base title, with 65, and his slugging average of .577 was second only to Fielder's.
"It's a dream come true. It took a lot of hard work and dedication," Henderson said. "I'm very proud of this award."
He added that he knows how Fielder, who had 51 homers and 132 RBI, feels as runner-up.
"I remember 1981, when Rollie Fingers edged me," Henderson said. "I always felt the MVP award should go to an everyday ballplayer."
Fingers, the relief pitcher who began his career in Oakland, was with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1981. He got 319 points to Henderson's 308 in the MVP voting, and he was the first of three AL pitchers to win the MVP award in the 1980s.
Boston's Roger Clemens, the 1986 MVP, had three first-place votes and finished third this year with 212 points. Oakland reliever Dennis Eckersley had one first-place vote and was the sixth-place finisher, behind infielder Kelly Gruber of Toronto and reliever Bobby Thigpen of Chicago.
"Rickey and I both helped our teams. We're two different type teams. In power stats, I did better. For average, he did better," Fielder said Tuesday. "Of course I feel like I should have won it."
Henderson noted, "The game has changed since I got into baseball. The public and the sports writers are seeing now that it's more than just hitting home runs."
Hall of Famer Willie Mays - Henderson chose No. 24 as a uniform number because it was Mays' number - on Tuesday said, "Rickey's the best leadoff man I've ever seen. ... I've never seen a leadoff man who can do all the things he does so well."
"I'll play as long as I enjoy the game. I love it. I'm back home and we have an outstanding team. Winning makes it a lot more fun," said Henderson, who followed the advice of his mother, Bobbie Henderson, and chose baseball over football after graduating from Oakland's Technical High School.