How hot is hot? In the case of 26-year-old Rickey Henderson, hot is so hot he's melting the game's parameters. Ninety feet is not enough distance between bases. Four balls, three strikes seems unfair to pitchers. Henderson, in fact, is staging the hottest offensive show in recent baseball history.
Despite missing half of spring training and the first 10 games of the season with a sprained left ankle, he was leading the American League in batting (.354), runs (61) and stolen bases (36 in 38 attempts) at week's end. Only four players have won this hit-and-run Triple Crown: Billy Hamilton of the 1891 Phillies, Ty Cobb of the 1909, 1911 and 1915 Tigers, George Sisler of the 1927 St. Louis Browns and Snuffy Stirnweiss of the 1945 Yankees. Batting leadoff, Henderson is also second in on-base percentage (.438) and, incredibly, second in slugging (.550). Asked about his play, Milwaukee DH Ted Simmons mutters: "MVP."
In the 11 Yankee games between June 17 and June 28, Henderson had a .548 average, a .615 on-base percentage, scored 16 runs and stole 15 bases. Not coincidentally, the Yankees won eight of the 11 games and climbed into third, 6 games behind the East Division-leading Blue Jays. "When Rickey hits, we win," says Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly. "It's as simple as that."
When then-scout, now- manager Billy Martin persuaded Yankee owner George Steinbrenner to acquire Henderson from Oakland and sign him to a five-year, $8.6 million contract last December, the clincher to his argument was that Henderson could be the most exciting Yankee since Mickey Mantle.
It appears that Martin wasn't exaggerating. Henderson's versatile hitting and exciting running—both on the bases and in the field—have had the fans jumping and shouting. The 5'10", 180-pounder hits from an extreme crouch and uncoils at the plate like a jack-in-the-box. On the bases he reaches high gear in a few short steps. And he's ranging all over centerfield to track down flies and outrun his occasional misjudgments.