Book Reviews: Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original by Rickey Henderson


Author: Howard Bryant
Title: Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original
Narrator: JD Jackson
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2022)
Summary/Review:

Rickey Henderson is a man of contrasts.  He was one of the great baseball players of all time, breaking multiple records, and then playing another decade seemingly never wanting to retire.  And yet football was his favorite sport which he really wanted to play instead of baseball.  He worked hard to develop his game and yet he got a reputation for lackadaisical play and missing games.  His flashy style of play earned him the enmity of the conservative, white sports media but the love of young fans especially in the Black community.  His approach to baseball of aiming to get on base by any means and scoring runs was looked down upon by the experts of the time who valued batting average and power, but was vindicated by the Sabermetric approach that came into vogue in the 2000s right as Rickey was retiring.

Bryant interviewed Rickey and several important people in his life, including his wife Pamela.  His life story is tied to his hometown of Oakland, a segregated city where the Black children found an outlet in the community sports leagues that produced a great number of professional sports stars.  One of these was Billy Martin, a cantankerous figure who became a mentor and friend to Rickey as his manager in Oakland and New York. Bryant follows Rickey’s career through 4 stints with the Oakland A’s, a troubled period with the Yankees, and a final decade as a nomad playing for any team who would have him.  Highlights include winning the World Series in the 1989 and 1993 and the AL MVP in 1990.

I can’t say that you really get to know Rickey Henderson from this biography.  Despite his outsized personality, he’s a very private person, and one who seems detached because of he worries about his lack of education showing as well as his inability to remember names.  But I think Bryant does a brilliant job regardless of telling Rickey’s story.  His career coincides with a time in baseball when free agency made the star players multi-millionaires and Black players like Rickey were no longer willing to show deference to the white owners and media.  I’ve always liked Rickey and this book just makes me like him more.

Recommended books:

  • Becoming Manny: Inside the Life of Baseball’s Most Enigmatic Slugger by Jean Rhodes
  • Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

Rating: ****

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