Rickey gives stubborn nod to retirement

Updated: July 17, 2009, 8:28 PM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

Rickey Henderson's legacy is secure as Major League Baseball's career leader in runs scored, stolen bases and home runs out of the leadoff spot. But he will not become the first position player ever to attempt a comeback after entering the Hall of Fame.

Henderson
Henderson

Henderson, who has yet to officially retire from baseball, all but conceded that his playing days are history Friday, when he appeared on a conference call in advance of his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Henderson and Jim Rice will enter the Hall in a ceremony at Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 26. "Me and one of my best friends was talking about that: 'Are you thinking about coming back?' " Henderson told reporters. "In my heart, loving the game, I would love to come back and play.''

Henderson, 50, said he probably ruined his chances of a post-Cooperstown comeback by hanging on as a part-time player for several years after turning 40. Between 1999 and 2003, Henderson played for the New York Mets, Seattle, San Diego, Boston and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"Now that I think about it ... I kept trying to come back and come back,'' Henderson said. "You have to wait five years to go into the Hall of Fame. If I would have thought about it and just got those five years out of the way early, I would have been a little younger, and I could have come back after I went into the Hall of Fame. But I waited too long.''

Former Orioles star Jim Palmer briefly attempted a comeback with Baltimore in 1991 after being elected to the Hall of Fame. But he retired after pitching two innings in a spring training game.

Henderson has made numerous attempts to come back since his last appearance in the majors with the Dodgers in 2003. He played for the Newark Bears in the independent Atlantic League, and for the San Diego Surf Dawgs of the independent Golden Baseball League.

In May 2007, Oakland general manager Billy Beane considered signing Henderson to a one-day contract so that he could retire as a member of the Athletics' organization. But the A's reportedly had concerns that Henderson might insist on staying with the club for the rest of the season, and the arrangement never materialized.

Since Henderson never played in a major league game for all those years, the five-year clock for election to the Hall of Fame continued ticking. Henderson made it to Cooperstown in January by appearing on 94.8 percent of writers' ballots -- easily surpassing the 75 percent required for induction.

Henderson landed a position as the Mets' first base coach in 2007, but was not retained by the club in 2008. He still has an interest in coaching.

"My heart is still in the game,'' he said. "So with what I've learned and what I know about playing the game, hopefully I can get back in and help one young kid try to achieve his goals.''

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer