At any rate, Henderson's time for Hall of Fame consideration has come, provided he doesn't up and play for a Major League team this year. Lord knows he has tried. Officers of the Baseball Writers' Association of America used to tell Henderson regularly that he cannot get to the Hall of Fame if he doesn't retire at some point. But Rickey "being Rickey" simply didn't want to take the uniform off.
The time Henderson spent in the Minors and independent leagues had no bearing on his retirement. Since he has not played in the Majors since 2003 when he got into 30 games for the Dodgers, Henderson will finally qualify for the 2009 Hall of Fame ballot that will be mailed out this December to more than 550 voters with 10 or more consecutive years in the BBWAA.
The all-time leader in runs (2,295) and stolen bases (1,406) is an odds-on favorite for first-ballot election. Henderson established himself as baseball's supreme leadoff hitter by banging out 3,055 hits in a career spanning four decades (1979-2003) that included four separate tours with the Athletics and stops along the way with the Yankees, Blue Jays, Padres, Angels, Mets, Mariners, Red Sox and Dodgers.
A career .279 hitter with a .401 on-base average and 297 home runs, Henderson won World Series rings with the 1989 A's and '93 Jays, was the AL Most Valuable Player in 1990 and set the bar so high with the single-season stolen base record of 130 in 1982 that no player since has come within 20 bags of equaling it.
Other first-time candidates that could reach the ballot, which will be announced in late November, include former AL MVP Mo Vaughn and his cousin Greg; former AL Cy Young Award winner David Cone; reliever Jesse Orosco, the record holder for most pitching appearances (1,252); and three teammates from the 2001 World Series champion D-backs: Jay Bell, Mark Grace and Matt Williams.
The 2008 ballot upon which Goose Gossage won election to the Hall was the smallest in BBWAA voting history, with merely 25 names. There could be fewer candidates than that on the 2009 ballot, which may bode well for 1978 AL MVP Jim Rice in what will be his final year of eligibility. With fewer choices, Rice may make up the less than three percent he needs to gain election.
Candidates must be named on 75 percent of ballots cast to get elected. Rice received 392 votes (72.2 percent) from a total of 543 ballots submitted that left him 16 votes shy of the 408 required for election. Rice's percentage last year was the highest for any player not yet in the Hall. The last player elected in his final year on the BBWAA ballot was pitcher Red Ruffing in 1967. It is frequently misreported that outfielder Ralph Kiner was elected in his final year on the ballot, but he gained entry in 1975 on his 12th try.
Also on the ballot for the last time will be pitcher Tommy John, who won 288 games in 26 seasons, but his task is far more difficult than that of Rice. John has never gone over the 30-percent mark in 14 prior elections. His best year was 2006 when he was named on 29.6 percent of the ballots. Last year, John received 158 votes (29.1 percent).
Making his third appearance on the ballot will be Mark McGwire, slugger of 583 home runs but recipient of only 128 votes in each of the past two elections for less than a 25-percent plurality as voters are assessing the careers of players in an era confirmed in the Mitchell Report of widespread use of anabolic steroids.
Henderson's spot on the ballot may also serve to amplify the candidacy of a player with similar skills, Tim Raines, who received 132 votes (24.3 percent) in 2008, his first year of eligibility. Other holdovers will be first baseman Don Mattingly; outfielder-designated hitter Harold Baines; shortstop Alan Trammell; outfielders Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy and Dave Parker and pitchers Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris and Lee Smith.