Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rickey's return trip to Bay Area in '89 nearly ended in San Francisco

It’s been 20 seasons since the A’s swept the Giants in the 1989 World Series, a series remembered more for the 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake that struck before Game 3 at Candlestick Park than for Oakland’s dominance on the field.

About a dozen players from that A’s team gathered for a reunion of sorts before Tuesday night’s game against the Giants at the Coliseum. Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco – the Bash Brothers -- were absent, for all of the obvious steroids-related reasons.

But Rickey Henderson, still polishing his speech just a few weeks before his Hall of Fame induction at Cooperstown, showed up for the party and received a standing ovation during a pregame ceremony.

Henderson returned to the A’s that year in a midseason trade from the Yankees. To hear Henderson tell it before Tuesday’s game, he could well have been wearing orange and black during the ’89 World Series.

“We had the deal made with the Giants,” Henderson said. “And then when we asked them what they wanted me to do for their club, they wanted me to play right field and bat fifth. The deal was off.”

Henderson hit leadoff and played center field. Period. A few days later, Henderson said, the A’s stepped in and made the trade.

“It was surprising that I was coming back home,” Henderson said. “That was a good thing. I was coming back home. It was really new life. Sometimes we get in that last (year of a) contract, you want to have such great success in that year to get you a contract and then all of a sudden things aren’t going right, and it’s just all crazy. So it was a new life for me.”

Henderson hit just .247 in 65 games for George Steinbrenner’s Yankees that season. He had three homers, 22 RBI and 25 stolen bases. In 85 regular-season games with the A’s, he hit .294 with nine home runs, 35 RBI and 52 steals.

Henderson saved his best for the postseason that year. He hit .400 in a 4-1 series win over Toronto, earning ALCS MVP honors, then hit .474 in the World Series.

“Rickey’s a spotlight guy,” said Dave Henderson, an outfielder on that team. “The more people watch him, the better he’s going to play.”

The ’89 A’s were already a dominant team before general manager Sandy Alderson and team owner Wally Haas made the deal for Henderson.

“Walter was a winner,” said pitcher Dave Stewart, the MVP of the ’89 series. “Sandy was a winner. We really believed in putting our feet on people’s necks. Getting Rickey was the move that put us over the top.”

Alderson said he made the trade while talking to the Yankees from a “pay phone in Mill Valley,” back in the days when they had phone booths.

“There was a little bit of debate internally, whether we should do it or not,” Alderson said. “There wasn’t a lot. … It worked out pretty well.”

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