There’s no question that former A’s outfielder Rickey Henderson is one of the greatest baseball players who has ever lived. He’s the all-time stolen base leader, a record that may never be broken. But Henderson came very close to doing what Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders did, becoming a two-sport star, according to an article in the SF Chronicle.
Henderson is a special instructor in A’s spring training this year, and was looking forward to working with an athlete who has drawn comparisons to him- Heisman winner Kyler Murray, who recently chose to focus on his football career. It remains to be seen whether that’s a wise decision, but Henderson spoke about when he faced a similar dilemma coming out of high school as a two-sport player who was recruited by USC as a running back and also as a baseball player.
“Football was my love; I was a football player, But my mom’s love was baseball. And she didn’t want her baby to get hurt. I was mad, but she was smart. Overall, with the career longevity and the success I had, she made the right decision. Some of the players in football now have short careers and they can barely move around when they’re done. But I would have made it football. People who saw me play said I was a no-doubter. I would have been good. But for how long? Running backs then lasted three or four years,” said Henderson.
It’s hard to argue with Mrs. Henderson here, as Rickey had one of the greatest and longest careers we’ve ever seen on the baseball diamond. Rickey also recounted how he tried to play for the Silver and Black.
“When Bo Jackson first came into the league, I went to Al Davis to go play football and he was going to let me be a two-way player. The Oakland A’s said, ‘Oh, no way. You’re not going out there. That’s not going to happen.’ That was my chance and I missed it. I always used to tell Bo and Deion Sanders, ‘I could have done that, played both sports, but the A’s said they weren’t going to let me.’ That was my dream.”
What a story, and one that I even as a huge Rickey Henderson fan never knew about. What would those late 80’s Raider backfields have looked like with Bo, Marcus Allen and Rickey Henderson? What kind of career could Henderson have had in football if the A’s hadn’t been so pensive, or if his mom hadn’t been so adamant that he play baseball professionally and not football?
It’s hard to fault the A’s for protecting the greatest player in the history of their franchise, especially when one considers what happened to Bo Jackson. But considering how great of an athlete Henderson was, that has to be one of the great untapped wells of football potential ever.