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Rickey

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Howard Bryant (@hbryant42) is the author of many, many books, most recently Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original (Mariner Books).

It’s a tremendous books, one that delves into the life of the great lead-off hitter Rickey Henderson and puts his life into context, builds a world around Rickey.

Howard is the author of The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron, Full Dissidence: Notes from an Uneven Playing Field, and The Heritage, among many others. He has covered baseball for many years, is a senior writer for ESPN, and is a contributor to NPR’s Weekend Edition. He also was the 2017 guest editor for Best American Sports Writing.

You’re going to love this conversation on Rickey Henderson, but also the art of writing biography, lobbying sources to be part of the book, and how it’s the stories that get repeated that are the ones that stick around. This speaks to how easily people are forgotten.
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Rickey by Howard Bryant- I don't usually read books about sports stars, but this was an easy exception. In 1996 my son and I got to witness the explosive power of Rickey Henderson at bat. He played for the San Diego Padres that year and, since we lived in SD, we attended a lot of games that summer. When Rickey would come up to home plate, you just knew something exciting was bound to happen. In this book the author talks about the record number of bases stolen, or his high on-base average, and also the difficult times Rickey and all people of color had just getting by in post-WW2 America. Filled with insights from some of the legendary names in Baseball, Rickey is a great story about a great player and a great man. Thank you NetGalley for this entertaining ARC. Go Rickey!
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Rickey Henderson was exciting to watch when he was playing and I was very grateful to read this book about him. You are taken from his young youth when he wanted to be a football star to how he got into playing baseball. Once drafted you see how one minor league manager really helped first and then how Billy Martin took to him and he really took off. On the field, he was something and could change the game if the team needed a base runner and then he would get into scoring position. He was fun to watch and really for me more exciting than all of the home runs that are being hit today. For anyone who loves the game of baseball, this is a book for you. Very much worth the read.
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An absolutely wonderful and objective of the great player, Rickey Henderson. With great style and amazing research (so many people connected to Ricky & Rickey himself gave him access) Bryant puts Rickey into context, not only of baseball but also of Oakland, CA where the player grew up, lived, and played.

I loved that this book has such great respect for the players and the sport but that he never loses sight of his subject. Sportswriters are among the best writers working today & this book is a worthy addition to that canon.
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“If you cut Rickey Henderson in half, you’d have two Hall of Famers.” – Bill James

Where have all the characters gone?

In today’s professional sports realm, the massive amounts of money involved have led to something of a homogenization in terms of the individual. With such huge amounts of cash on the line, it behooves pro athletes to operate on a level of strategic blandness; most players land in a place of platitudes and cliches, all intended to say as little as possible about the people themselves.

But it wasn’t always that way.

There was a time when pro sports were littered with colorful characters, iconic and iconoclastic players whose compelling performances on the field were counterpointed by eccentricities off it. In sports, legends are born not just of greatness in the box score, but of the stories that surround them.

And Rickey Henderson, no matter your definition, is a legend.

“Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original” is a new biography of the legend by sportswriter Howard Bryant. It is a deep and definitive look at one of the greatest to ever play the game of baseball. Henderson is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the all-time leader for stolen bases both in a season (130 in 1982) and in a career (1,406), as well as for most runs scored in a career (2,295). He is the only man in MLB history with more than 3,000 hits and more than 2,000 walks. The numbers he put up over his 25 years in the big leagues are staggering.

But the craziest part of all is that those numbers only tell part of the story.

During his time in the majors, Rickey would become a true iconoclast – one of the last, really. The stories of his attitude and antics would become codified within the lore of the game, turning an all-timer of a ballplayer into an all-timer of a character. His unwavering belief in his own capabilities (not to mention their worth) would lead to a roller coaster of perception; he would go from being respected to reviled to celebrated to questioned to utterly beloved, all without ever once changing who he was on a fundamental level.

Basically, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

And so Bryant – a gifted writer who spent a good chunk of time covering baseball in the Bay Area during Rickey’s myriad stints there – gives us a soup-to-nuts rendering of the man, from his humble beginnings in Oakland to his rapid ascent into stardom to his arrival the apex of the baseball world to his slow evolution into a hardball folk hero. The triumphs of Rickey are here, but so too are the tribulations, as we’re given insight into the struggles that marked Rickey’s life both on the field and off it.

Born in Oakland, Rickey Henderson grew up as an athletic prodigy, excelling at everything he tried up through his time at Oakland Tech. He was great at baseball, naturally, but also so good at football that he (and others) believed to be his best sport. Nevertheless, he chose the diamond and wound up in the bigs with his hometown Oakland Athletics in 1979.

Over the course of the next quarter-century, Rickey would rewrite the record books. The first thing anyone thinks about is stolen bases, and with good reason – the aforementioned incredible totals, of course, but also the fact that he led the league a dozen times, including 66 in 1998, when he was 39 years old. He is on the leaderboard of dozens of significant statistical categories. He essentially redefined what it meant to bat in the leadoff position, developing into a speed/power threat that was essentially unprecedented. His combination of compressed batting stance and keen eye made him a unique force in the annals of the game.

And yet, so much of what makes Rickey, well, Rickey, is who he was while accomplishing all this. He was brash and self-confident, utterly convinced of his own greatness. He came up during a time when players – particularly Black players like Henderson – were expected to behave with a certain degree of reverence for the institution of baseball. And that was decidedly not Rickey’s style.

Rickey wouldn’t hesitate to put on a show. If he hit a home run, he’d mosey around the bases, picking at his uniform the whole way. He’d steal at will, no matter the score or situation. He knew what his skills were worth and demanded to be compensated thusly, becoming for one very brief stretch the highest-paid player in the game. He didn’t feel obligated to put himself out for the media, a fact that led to decades of gleeful revenge from the scribes who delighted in calling Rickey and his attitude a scourge of the game.

But as those cantankerous voices faded, a new generation recognized the power and value of what Rickey had done and was in fact still doing. And that’s when “Rickey being Rickey” came to the forefront. Stories about Rickey’s eccentricities – the third-person talking, the inability to remember names, the disregard for convention on and off the field – became practically a cottage industry, a currency within the game. Despite staggering performance on the field, Rickey became just as famous for the tales of who he was as he was for what he did.

That’s what Bryant captures so beautifully in “Rickey.” Thanks to a stunning number of interviews – including some with the man himself – Bryant is able to assemble a complex and comprehensive look at a complicated legacy. The roots of so many criticisms of Rickey were born of racism, both inherent and explicit; Bryant doesn’t shy away from that reality, acknowledging that many in baseball at that time viewed Rickey’s behaviors and style of play as somehow less than simply because of the color of his skin.

Conversations with his peers – teammates and rivals and (more than occasionally) both; Rickey played for nine different squads over his career – revealed a deep respect for the man’s talents on the field. Even those who begrudged his style in the moment conceded his brilliance, though there were some who couldn’t resist a bit (or more than a bit) of back-handedness with their praise.

It’s all woven together into an engaging package, a fascinating read for anyone who loves baseball. Bryant’s affinity for both the game in general and his subject specifically results in a book that, while even-handed, is also something of a love letter to what baseball was once upon a time. It’s not romanticizing, or at least, not exactly, but rather, an affectionate look back at an imperfect time in which a force of nature fundamentally altered what it meant to be on first base.

I found “Rickey” to be a marvelous read. As someone whose own baseball fandom coincided with much of Henderson’s stardom, I was always going to love this book. But the truth is that any fan of the game will find much to like. It’s a chance for older fans to look back at Rickey’s impact on their own fandom and an opportunity for younger fans to gain some perspective on the seemingly-impossible numbers that litter his Baseball Reference page.

It's Rickey being Rickey and Howard being Howard – what more do you want?
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This is an excellent biography of a baseball player. Ricky Henderson makes for a good subject because he holds plenty of contradictions. There are also a number of myths around him, some of which Bryant proves untrue. Bryant also gives an excellent background of the Henderson family, including the Great Migration. He also shows how Henderson lengthened his career by not playing all the games as a younger player. I am tough on sports books and this is a really good one.
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Rickey was a very fitting biography of Rickey Henderson. It was enjoyable, structured in a way that seemed like you were being told "Rickey Stories". The timeline seemed to jump around a bit, which got confusing from time to time, but overall, it fit the character of Rickey. Howard Bryant did a good job of diving into the complexity of Rickey's character, and covering him warts and all. He doesn't forgive some of Rickey's choices, but he works to explain them as best as he can. Bryant also worked to place Rickey in historical context, particularly because Rickey's career spanned multiple mindset shifts in the game. One of the primary complaints about Henderson was his taking games off, or not playing hurt, and Bryant takes this head on. What's interesting about reading some of this biography is how much of it is colored by my views on baseball and the current climate of the game. That isn't bad - but it made for some disconnect when I would read about the criticism of Henderson not playing enough games when he was playing 140+ games a year. Bryant did a good job of explaining some of the historical thought processes so that the reader is able to understand where the criticism was coming from. 

I enjoyed (if that's the right word) how Bryant approached Henderson's race and how it affected the way he was raised, played, and was viewed within the game. Being a black player in baseball comes loaded with a history, and Bryant did a good job of tapping into that history. Since Henderson was such a private person throughout his career (and somewhat during this book), there wasn't always a huge amount of information for Bryant to share, beyond game/season reports. Adding in the information about Oakland, the Great Migration, and other historical information did help place Rickey in context and flesh out parts of the book.
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Subtitled: The Life and Legend of an American Original

I received an advance reader copy of this book from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Rickey Henderson is the all-time major league leader in stolen bases (ahead of Lou Brock) and runs scored (ahead of Ty Cobb); he was also the all-time leader in walks (ahead of Babe Ruth) until Barry Bonds passed him after his retirement. Rickey is the story of his life from his childhood to the end of his baseball career and beyond.


Born in Chicago on Christmas Day 1958, his family migrated west to Oakland CA, where he quickly became a standout in football at an early age. One of his teachers bribed him to play baseball and eventually Henderson decided he could have a more durable and lengthy career on the baseball diamond than on the football field. A major sub-theme of the book is the long and rich history of athletes coming out of Oakland and the surrounding area to achieve professional fame. That legacy includes the NBA’s Bill Russell, and baseball players such as Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan, Henderson and many others. During the height of Henderson’s career, the 1980s, there were several other of his contemporaries from the Bay area who experienced major league success.

I gave Rickey five stars on Goodreads. It is one of the most thorough baseball biographies in recent memory, covering the Henderson’s tenures with 9 different major league teams (including 4 stints with his hometown Oakland A’s). I wasn’t paying as much to baseball in the latter part of the 1990s, so I appreciated the review of the final years of his career.
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"Rickey" finally tells the story of the "Man of Steal" in all his enigmatic glory. Before reading this book, I mostly remembered Rickey Henderson for his incredible longevity and his penchant for referring to himself in the third person. Now that I've read Howard Bryant's even handed account of Rickey's early life and rise to baseball glory, I understand how Rickey was integral in paving the way for the modern sports superstar. Packed with great stories, I'd recommend this book to baseball fans and sports fans in general.
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I've always been very interested in Rickey Henderson's story. This book unfortunately did not deliver. 

The pacing of the book was not to my taste. The material about the great migration from the South to California was interesting. But the discursus into the history of Oakland felt too long. Rickey was amazing as a kid, but I didn't need myriad anecdotes reinforcing that fact. More about his actual baseball career earlier in the book would have been nice. 

I wish Mr. Bryant all the luck. He is a talented writer, but this book wasnt for me.
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Rickey Henderson was a magical ballplayer—a generational talent—who kept to himself. As such, his gifts were renowned, but Henderson himself was a bit of a mystery. Howard Bryant captures the voice of this eclectic superstar as he visits the boyhood Oakland baseball culture that nurtured Rickey’s five-tool talents. And he does so with brilliant reporting buoyed by humor that captures Henderson’s enigmatic career.
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With Rickey Henderson, the stories always start before the facts.

Here's one that didn't make the book: A sportswriter asked Henderson for an interview, and Rickey asked where she was from. She said she worked for the Bee newspaper chain - the Sacramento Bee, the Modesto Bee, the Stockton Bee, whatever.

Rickey was said to have responded, "Man, the Bee be everywhere."

Henderson may have actually said that. Then again, maybe not. The point is that it's hard to separate truth from fiction when it comes to Rickey, and that's why this biography of the baseball great is so valuable ... and why the subtitle - "The Life and Legend of an American Original" was right on target. 

Howard Bryant went deep into the subject of Henderson's life to figure out what really happened. The resulting book, "Rickey," brings clarity to the life of someone who can use it at least in the public relations sense. However, the actions speak louder than those words - or atleast they should.

Rickey was part of the Great Migration of the 20th century that brought millions of African Americans out of the South. Quite a few settled in Oakland, California. In the early going of the book, it was almost easy to trip out over someone who would become a public figure down the road. For example, an Oakland high school once had a baseball outfield of Frank Robinson, Curt Flood and Vada Pinson. Other made substantial contributions to black cultural life in other ways. 

Henderson wasn't part of that original wave of athletes. But when he reached high school, he was beyond a sensation. It's hard to imagine just how good someone with his athletic skills must have been in football. Who at that level could even tackle him? But Rickey ended up in baseball right out of high school. He started in the Oakland Athletics farm system, and it took him a relatively short period of time to move up the ladder - maybe longer than Rickey would have liked. In that first year, Rickey carried along a little secret. He was essentially illiterate, teaching himself how to read in his first years as a pro. A great athlete tended to get pushed along, so Henderson didn't feel a great deal of academic pressure - especially one with reading issues.

Rickey eventually reached the majors, and led the league in stolen bases in his first full seasons - including a preposterous 130 in 1982. Henderson was rewarded with good contracts, but his requests for better ones were rejected. The knock was along the lines, "Yeah, he gets on base and steal bases, but he doesn't show much power." So the Athletics traded him to the Yankees, where Rickey started turning up the power (24 and 28 homers in his first two years) but still doing all the things that made him the best leadoff man in the league. 

The reaction was rather stunning, at least from the New York media. It downplayed his achievements; the stories quoted in the book almost seem laughable. In hindsight that seems rather shocking. Bryant makes a case that racism was involved. Some of that might have come from "leaks" of information from the team. Bryant points out that it was somewhat rare at the time for African American Yankees (that phrase reads oddly in hindsight) of that era to be embraced by the team and the players. Somehow, Dave Winfield wasn't a true Yankee, even if his biggest offense was outsmarting team management in contract negotiations. 

And Rickey also went his own way whenever possible. You wouldn't expect someone of his background to be particularly good at media interviews, and he wasn't. Contrast that to the leader of team across town, Gary Carter of the Mets, who never met a microphone he didn't like. And Henderson was not one of those guys who took the field game after game, no matter what. If he wasn't close to 100 percent, he took a maintainance day. Rickey only played more than 150 games in a season twice (both in New York). For a guy whose legs took a pounding with all of those stolen bases, that seems like a good idea in hindsight. 

Rickey eventually went back to Oakland, where he was happier and just as good - winning an MVP trophy in 1990 as a big part of the great teams in that era. After a few more years with the Athletics, he bounced from team to team. In a third stop in Oakland in 1998, he had 66 stolen bases ... at the age of 39. Who does that? Heck, who breaks a career record in an established sports at the end of 31, as Rickey did in steals.

Bryant makes a very good case that if Rickey was truly dogging it on the field, he wouldn't have played until he was 44. And he wouldn't be the all-time leader in runs and stolen bases. Perhaps all of those stories about him were a way of humanizing him, since there wasn't much wrong with the way he played baseball. Henderson always was rather driven to become an immortal, keeping an eye on his financial situation as he went. When he made it to Cooperstown, he received a little help beforehand and then delivered an acceptance speech that hit a perfect tone. Rickey didn't even have any of his characteristic references to himself in the third person. 

Practically every article on Rickey's legacy contains a quote from baseball analyst Bill James - if you cut Henderson in half, you'd have two Hall of Famers. Yup, he was that good - the most disruptive giure on the basepaths since ... who? Ty Cobb? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe ever.

Bryant performs the public service of putting the image of Henderson as a caricature somewhat to rest with "Rickey."  The stories about him may not be all true - the author knocks down a few of them along the way - but the achievements remain.
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A good snapshot into the life and highlights of Rickey Henderson. This falls in line with your typical sports biography. The reader will get some insight into what molded Rickey as a person and a player.

Thank you NetGalley for providing me with this ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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Howard Bryant's meticulously researched book gives an incredibly detailed look at the REAL Rickey, beyond the caricatures, the Olerud story, and everything most of us knew. He weaves concepts like the Great Migration and redlining into his work seamlessly, showing how greater societal trends helped to give us one of the greatest players of all time.  Any true baseball fan needs this book.
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I have been waiting for a long time to read a book about Rickey Henderson and Mr. Bryant does not disappoint.  This book covers Rickey from his birth in his parents career to his illustrious playing days to his retirement and all the accolades that follow.  Rickey is one of the greatest players of all time and has a outsized personality to go with it.

This book covers all the great Rickey stories like the framed check on the wall and the John Olerud story.  Mr. Bryant does a great job weaving this story and separating fact from fiction.  He conducts numerous interviews and uses actual newspaper and magazine articles in the text of the book.  I really enjoyed this as I felt it conveyed the sentiments of various sportswriters who were around during Rickey’s career.  Mr. Bryant did a great job showing a side of Rickey that isn’t well know while still covering Rickey’s larger than life personality. Mr. Bryant is very fair and lays out his thoughts both positive and negative about Rickey, his career, and his behavior.  He uses facts from the articles and interviews to back up his analysis. 

If I had one criticism of the book, it would be the opening chapter and the epilogue. Both seem to portray the book as a look at Rickey Henderson, The City of Oakland, and African American ballplayers during Rickey’s career.  The problem is that the rest of the book really only focuses on Rickey.  That is a small criticism, and by no means takes away from the enjoyment of the book.

Mr. Bryant brings a well throughout, factual, and entertaining look at Rickey Henderson in Rickey.  It is well worth the time to read, especially for any baseball fan. Rickey Henderson is a fascinating person, and this book does a great job telling his story.  Thank you to @netgalley, @HBryant42, and @marinerbooks for a free advance readers copy for an honest review.
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I came into Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original with a bit of trepidation. The book’s author, ESPN writer Howard Bryant, deftly explores the intersection of sports with race, history, and culture in his books and articles and was a former A’s beat writer during Henderson’s tenure with the team. No concerns there. But was Rickey Henderson an interesting enough subject to hold my engagement for over 400 pages? I like baseball well enough but I never was a huge A’s or Rickey Henderson fan and I mainly remember him from playing forever, stealing a ton of bases, and being portrayed as a prickly and aloof personality by the media. In the end, my reluctance was somewhat justified but I’m still glad I read Rickey. It doesn’t shed much new light on Henderson’s personality or private life (and I’m fine with that), but it does chronicle the life of a stellar athlete (Bill James once said splitting Rickey in half would leave you with two Hall of Famers) and places his career in context.  

The book is structured into 3 roughly equally-sized sections. Its opening chapters cover Henderson’s early years and the impact the Great Migration of blacks from the south to northern and western cities had on Henderson’s family and Oakland in general. Completely understandably, this portion was the heaviest on non-sports content and at times reads more like a history of Oakland and black migration (think something akin to Boom Town by Sam Anderson). It also describes Henderson’s childhood growing up as a star football player (he mainly shifted his focus to baseball out of injury concerns and even contacted Raiders owner Al Davis for a tryout in the late 80s). Henderson was also carelessly hurtled through the Oakland public school system, leaving him unable to properly read a newspaper until he was 20. This left Rickey remarkably self-conscious about his vocabulary and being seen as unintelligent by the media which helped drive his perpetually rocky relationship with representatives of the fourth estate. Rickey was drafted out of high school by his hometown A’s and after some up-and-down experiences in the minor leagues made it to the majors in 1979. The first section concludes with the 1981 MLB season, when the Athletics won the AL West and Rickey earned his second consecutive All-Star nod and finished as runner-up in the MVP voting to reliever Rollie Fingers (which seems so weird in retrospect). 

Sports biographies often run the risk of becoming monotonous once the player’s pro career gets going, and Bryant faces this issue with part two of Rickey. Athletes play the same sport in roughly the same fashion day after day and year after year. Once the reader has passed the requisite “childhood and developmental athletic career” portion and gets to the meaty area where the subject is in the big leagues, these biographies sometimes descend into a player’s Baseball Reference page with a few anecdotes and a photograph section thrown in. And Henderson, who played more seasons than any player who began their career in the 20th century, offers an especially large risk here. Bryant navigates this by focusing the middle of Rickey on Henderson’s prime productive years from 1982-1994 in great detail and then fast-forwarding through his final years and post-playing career in the final third. 

I believe Bryant did a decent job of avoiding the aforementioned monotony pitfall. Yes, he chronologically reviews each season, but he adds enough detail and analysis (benefitting considerably from lots of snippets of articles about Rickey back when beat and national writers tremendously shaped popular hardball opinion) and interviews with teammates and opponents and friends of Rickey. Bryant mentions that Rickey wasn’t terribly excited about the prospect of a biography where he didn’t have final say (the project was instead primarily driven by Rickey’s longtime wife Pamela) but Rickey did sit down for some extended interviews and Bryant draws from comments from a plethora of people who were in Rickey’s social orbit throughout his entire life. The reader also benefits from Henderson’s peripatetic career. While things got really ridiculous at the tail end of his career when he basically played for a different team each year, even in his early days Henderson bounced around a bit. Playing in Toronto and Oakland is different from playing in the media fishbowl that is New York and it helps keep the seasons from blending into each other. Henderson had a reputation of being icy with the media and he comes off as quite a private individual, and that leaves Bryant basically avoiding much of his non-baseball life entirely. He seems to have a complicated relationship with his wife (who he had been dating since he was 14 years old) with some infidelity and public slights but perhaps due to Bryant’s close relationship with Pamela, Rickey barely touches upon that, as well as the time in 1994 when Rickey’s half-sister claimed that he raped her when he was a teenager.  

The last third of Rickey breezes through the remainder of his career from 1995 onwards, when Rickey played for 8 teams (not including the Newark Bears and other minor league teams he was affiliated with after his MLB career) and then examines his legacy. It’s pretty amazing that Henderson was able to stick around for so long given his game was highly predicated on speed, but he also possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of all things baserunning, and he was able to be an impactful player into his 40s. Once Rickey finally retired, he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer and if anything his legacy has been heightened by baseball’s embrace of advanced metrics. Sabermetrics hasn’t been kind to stolen bases (especially the wanton “permanent greenlight” approach taken by Henderson when he was gunning for Lou Brock’s single-season steal record) but with his uncanny knack for getting on base and drawing walks, Rickey looks quite strong and in February 2022 ESPN listed Henderson as the 23rd best ballplayer ever. Rickey barely goes into any depth on Henderson’s post-playing career, and that is totally fine with me and illustrates the biggest problem I had with the book: I don’t really fine Rickey Henderson that interesting. Some biographies will send me immediately to Google to learn more about the subject and go down a ton of rabbit holes. Not this one. Rickey falls a little short for me for the same reason why I’d rather read a biography of Colin Kaepernick than a biography of Patrick Mahomes; Mahomes is undoubtedly more talented, but I’m already familiar with his on-field exploits and I’m not interested in what he’s done off the field. Rickey was a phenomenal player but he’s not the most engaging personality in the world and he also didn’t seem to want a ton to do with the book. I learned he was very competitive (there is an amusing story about Ricky calling up the teenaged scorekeeper of his AA team to berate him for scoring a “hit” for him as an error) and aloof and that was mostly it. So upon completing Rickey you feel both like you don’t fully know the “true” Rickey and also probably aren’t terribly broken up about that fact. 

Overall, I found Rickey an overall solid read. It’s not quite at the “get this for my Dad for Father’s Day” tier of baseball book (because I don’t think Henderson is that interesting a personality and he doesn’t offer the same kind of social/historical/civil rights “gristle” for Bryant as Hank Aaron did in his last baseball biography) but it’s still a mostly enjoyable and certainly well-written read. 

7/10
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Rickey Henderson was a one-of-a-kind baseball player.  He set many major league records, such as most stolen bases and most home runs to lead off a game.  Those are just two of the many reasons, both on and off the field, that made him one of most interesting people to play the game and this biography of him by Howard Bryant is an excellent book on this excellent and exciting man. 

Bryant has written several books on the topic of race and sports, including an excellent biography on Hank Aaron that discusses the topic and this book is very similar.  Bryant takes a critical look at the topic as Henderson had to deal with it during his youth in Oakland, his time in the minor leagues, and especially when he was a member of the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees.  There are many eye-opening passages that deal with race, especially in the chapters when Henderson wore the Yankee pinstripes.  Without being harsh, Bryant does raise some legitimate criticism of the team and specifically owner George Steinbrenner. 

The criticism of Steinbrenner is in general terms and the difference in treatment between the team’s white players and the Black players.  In this specific case, that is clear not only in the dealings with Henderson but also with Steinbrenner’s investigation of Dave Winfield.  This is just one example of Bryant’s great writing on the topic, in which he casts a needed critical look but without blanket generalizations.  Another good example is in Oakland during his second tour with the A’s when Henderson, despite setting the record for stolen bases during that time, always seemed to be in the shadow of a more prominent player.  This could be either a teammate (Mark McGuire, Jose Canseco) or an opponent (Nolan Ryan). 

This isn’t to say the book is all about that topic. It is a very good and complete look at Henderson’s life and baseball career.  It also has lighter moments, especially when talking about some of the legendary “Rickey being Rickey” stories, whether they are embellishments, legends, or the absolute truth.  These are especially enjoyable to read, such as the story about talking to John Olerud when both were teammates in Seattle when Rickey said that he had a teammate on the Mets who wore a batting helmet in the field like the Mariners’ Olerud did.  That teammate – John Olerud.  

The organization and structure are much like any standard sports biography, but that is about all that is ordinary about this book.  Readers who either enjoy sports biographies or Bryant’s work will want to pick up this one.  While it would be a stretch to call it as unique as Rickey Henderson, it is one that isn’t quite like other biographies – it is even better. 

I wish to thank Mariner Books for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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I am a huge fan of Howard Bryant's work.  He's a trenchant, thoughtful commentator on the intersection of race and sports, beginning with "Shut Out" through "Full Dissidence," and I always look forward to what he has to say.

Having said that, it felt, at times, like "Rickey" was a conventional sports biography with the standard chronology.  I don't know if that's the result of Rickey Henderson, while a singular player, being a guarded or just apolitical (like most athletes) but it never felt like you got a sense of the man and his place in the greater scope of sports beyond the statistics.  Mr. Bryant did do a very good job explaining his relationships with his managers, especially Billy Martin.  

Very early and later on in the book, Mr. Bryant did do a great job on the Great Migration to Oakland (and its effect on baseball) and how the stories told about Rickey by an overwhelmingly white press may have impacted not only the perception of him but of all Black players.  I'd like to see a book delving more into those topics, using Rickey Henderson as a jumping off point, but perhaps that's unfair of me.  I picked up a book about Rickey Henderson and feel like it...covered Rickey Henderson too much.     

Still, it was well worth reading and I recommend it and his other works.

Thank you Net Galley for providing an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Finally, Rickey Henderson receives the full-blown bio treatment that he deserves and it comes from the only author in the game that can successfully pull it off in Howard Bryant. Bryant went to the ends of the Earth to interview as many people as possible to tell Rickey's story, and his thoroughness shines through within the pages of this read. Rickey, both on and off the field, was a truly unique figure in baseball history and anyone interested in the sport would truly enjoy this book.

But, the book is a lot more than the story of a baseball player's life. Bryant weaves in social, political and cultural aspects of Rickey's life in a way that only he can accomplish. The migration of African-Americans from the South to the Oakland area in the 1960s is key to the story and Bryant spends time detailing the history. Bryant also goes to great lengths to explain the ways in which Rickey was misunderstood by team executives, fans and, especially, the media during his playing days. 

This is one to put on your list, as well as the list of any baseball fan and, to a large extent, anyone interested in learning more about race, sports and society in America during the second half of the 20th Century.
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Ricky Henderson, retired now, although not officially, is the king of steals, baseball's all time steals leader by quite a lot, the all time runs scored leader, and the unintentional walks leader (2nd on all walks after Bonds).  He played major league ball from 1979 to 2003 and was an unstoppable force of nature.  Bryant's new biography offers an easy to read, well researched look at one of the greatest and most unique players ever.  The biography not only gives the play by play stars, but offers a look at Rickey's controversies from both sides.  Not only was Rickey one of the greatest ever, but he never stopped letting everyone know that with braggadocio, with hotdogging and showing off, and often an attitude that craved respect for his accomplishments, often measured by salary.  Bryant also tackles with great skill the subject of race in sports and Rickey's feeling that he was treated differently because of race and that his animated show-off was not appreciated because of it.  Bryant's narrative deftly brings out all sides of these issues.  This is a must-read for baseball fans.
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