Tim Raines giggled and pointed to Pirates pitcher Rick Rhoden a
few feet away from him in the National League's All-Star dressing
room. ''That man,'' said the Expos' leftfielder, ''is the toughest to
steal against because he's the world's best cheater.'' Rhoden
returned an antiphonal laugh. ''You're the one who cheats,'' Rhoden
said to Raines. ''You're the one who runs the hundred in 9.2. It says
in the rules that a player is supposed to be human.''
Across the Astrodome, in the American League clubhouse, Boston
catcher Rich Gedman looked at Rickey Henderson, who was getting
dressed. ''He's built like Superman,'' Gedman said of the Yankee
centerfielder. ''When you play against him, you try to say, 'Don't
let him bother you,' because there are times there is nothing you can
do to stop him from doing whatever he wants to do. He's from another
planet. Unfortunately, you can't help thinking about him. We're only
The men who have been accorded legendary status in baseball, those
who have inspired movies, candy bars or talk of superhuman
attributes, have usually been players who could either hit baseballs
500 feet or throw them 95 miles an hour. As Ruth became the force of
the '20s, Gehrig the '30s, Williams the '40s, Mantle the '50s, Koufax
and Gibson the '60s, Seaver and Carlton the '70s, so these two
microchips have come to dominate this decade. ''I'd rather have Tim
Raines or Rickey Henderson than any slugger in the game today,''
says Padres manager Steve Boros. ''That's not to say I'd take the
good leadoff man over the slugger, per se. I'm talking about Raines
and Henderson. They're probably the two best leadoff hitters who ever
Raines, 5 ft. 8 in. and 26 years old, and Henderson, 5 ft. 10 in.
and 27, have already etched their names in baseball history as base
stealers. The gold medallion inscribed with 130, which dangles from
Henderson's neck, signifies his record for stolen bases. With an
unmatched three 100-steal seasons behind him, Henderson is just 311
stolen bases away from Lou Brock's career mark of 938. Raines is the
first to steal 70 bases five times. In this, his sixth season, he's
on his way to another 70-steal year.
But stealing bases is not their only game. Maury Wills and Brock
could steal bases by the century load, and now so can the Cardinals'
Vince Coleman. ''Henderson and Raines are in a different class from
Coleman or any of the other rabbits,'' says Coleman's manager, Whitey
Herzog. ''Henderson and Raines do everything. They can dominate the
game out of the leadoff position.'' In researching leadoff hitters,
the Elias Sports Bureau has determined that Henderson and Raines are
in a class by themselves when it comes to power, speed and the
ability to reach base (see box, page 40).
Look at what they're doing this year. Henderson, batting .280, has
15 homers and 54 stolen bases, an on-base percentage of .376 and a
slugging percentage of .489. At his current pace, he will score 151
runs, the most since Lou Gehrig scored 167 in 1936. Raines is hitting
.334 with 43 stolen bases, an on-base percentage of .407 and a
slugging percentage of .491. The two men are the very embodiment of
thunder and lightning.
''When I came up, I thought my job was just to steal bases,'' says
Henderson. ''That's how I made my name. But gradually I found out how
many different things I can do. Now I'd like to get another medallion
with one six two on it, for 162 runs. Base stealing is just part of
the job of the leadoff hitter. My job is to score -- score and win.''
Henderson has scored 770 runs in this decade, nearly 120 more than
anyone else. Last year he scored more (146) than anyone since Ted
Williams had 150 in 1949 and became the first player since Joe
DiMaggio in 1939 to average more than a run a game. Raines has scored
568 runs in his 5 1/2 seasons, the most in the National League, and
in 1983, when he touched home 133 times, he was three runs shy of
being the first player to score 20% of his club's total runs. His run
total is down slightly this year, mainly because Andre Dawson, the
Expo who most often brings him home, has missed a lot of games with
injuries, forcing Raines to occasionally take Dawson's place in the
No. 3 spot. Henderson's and Raines's individual run per game averages
are unmatched. ''Their run-scoring is self-produced because they get
themselves into scoring position,'' says Boros. ''If they get a walk
or single -- and they each reach base 40 percent of the time -- they
steal. They also get extra-base hits like third-place hitters.'' In
his first 87 games this season, Henderson had gotten into scoring
position (including home) by himself 93 times; Raines had done it 74
times in 79 games. Over the last season and a half, Henderson has
ranked fourth and Raines seventh in their respective leagues in
extra- base hits.
They are, as Frank Broyles would say, ''athaletes,'' the kind
usually associated with the NFL or NBA. Each was better known in high
school as a running back than as a baseball player -- Raines at
Seminole High in Sanford, Fla., where he averaged 10.5 yards a carry;
Henderson at Oakland Tech, where he gained 1,100 yards one season.
Raines also set school records in the 100- yard dash, 330
intermediate hurdles and long jump. Raines had more than 100 college
football offers, and Henderson weighed football scholarships from
Arizona and USC (where he would have been the tailback between
Charles White and Marcus Allen). Each realized, however, that his
size was a limitation. ''I could have played tailback at Florida,''
Raines recalls, ''but I realized that the further I went, the more my
height was going to be a factor.'' Henderson wanted to play football
as well as baseball at Arizona, but his mother convinced him
otherwise. ''She was afraid that I'd get hurt in football,'' he says.
''I listened to her.'' So in 1976 the 17-year-old Henderson, a
fourth- round pick, accepted a contract from the A's and headed off
to Boise, Idaho. A year later, Raines took the Expos up on their
fifth-round offer and drove to Sarasota.
Stealing bases came naturally. Henderson had actually launched his
base- stealing career at Oakland Tech, thanks to his guidance
counselor and godmother, Tommie Wilkerson. ''I used to work overtime
so I could give the kids money and encourage them at the same time,''
says Mrs. Wilkerson, who promised Henderson and a friend a quarter
each time they stole a base. (When $ she held the same job at
crosstown McClymonds High School in the '50s, she had her husband put
up a basketball net in their backyard to encourage a shy, gangly
neighborhood youngster named Bill Russell. She also had a lot to do
with the maturing of one Frank Robinson.) ''I started running for
meal money,'' Henderson says with his trademark laugh. After 33
steals in 10 games, Mrs. Wilkerson says, ''Rickey left me broke. But
I didn't mind because he was special.'' In Henderson's first full
professional season in Modesto, Calif., he stole 95 bases in 134
games and so infatuated the fans that a match with a racehorse was
arranged at the ballpark. Henderson lost by a stride.
Raines, on the other hand, says he ''never gave much thought'' to
stolen bases in high school. ''I might have had 23 in 25 games, but
they were easy,'' he says. ''But when I got into pro ball, my coaches
told me that running was my ticket to the big leagues. So I ran. No
one had to teach me. Growing up for me was running and playing
baseball. My father was a semipro baseball player and former track
star, and my four brothers and I would race against Pop. Three of
them were older than me, but I was the first one ever to beat Pop,
and I didn't do it till I was 15.''
The running styles of both men show pure athletic skill. Neither
takes a long lead. ''Diving back headfirst is too much of a
pounding,'' says Raines. ''For both Rickey and me, the jump is more
important than the lead.'' Henderson's start is a traditional
crossover step, which he claims is nothing more than ''my cut and
acceleration in football. My jump's a football jump.'' Raines begins
with a unique swivel of his feet. ''All I do is get in position for
my old 100-yard-dash start,'' he says. Each is in gear in one stride,
Henderson even lower to the ground than Raines, and each reaches the
next base in 3.1 or 3.2 seconds. Brock says that Raines ''accelerates
into the bag harder than any base stealer ever.'' Raines will dive
headfirst only if the play is close; otherwise, he'll slide
feet-first so that he can pop back up and proceed to third should the
ball bounce away. Henderson prefers to go headfirst. ''I made that
slide fashionable,'' says Henderson. ''I learned it in Triple A from
a teammate named Michael Rodriguez. I kept being told, 'You can't do
it that way,' but I did. Now almost everyone does it that way.''
Henderson's slide is longer than Raines's and so strong that
sometimes he'll soar right over the bag and have to catch it with his
''They are built perfectly for their art,'' says Boros, a longtime
student of running who managed Henderson in Oakland and coached
Raines in Montreal. ''So is Coleman. Having the low center of gravity
is important. It's a lot tougher for a Willie Wilson or a Willie
Davis to keep it up, year after year.
''Rickey and Tim both downplay how much they study opposing
pitchers, but they have great powers of observation, which enable
them to read pitchers and time their jumps.'' When they are caught
stealing, it's usually because they are picked off. Raines has stolen
434 bases in his career and has been thrown out by catchers only 32
times. He has been nailed by catchers only three times this year, and
one of those times he was safe but overslid the bag. In his 1 1/2
seasons in New York, Henderson has been thrown out by catchers just
Raw speed is not the only superhuman trait they possess. They both
need tremendous strength to put up with the physical toll of
constantly sliding and diving. Raines, surprisingly, didn't suffer
his first base stealing injury until July 11 of this year, when he
jammed and bruised his knee. Still, he admits, ''My body gets awfully
tired and battered.'' Henderson has had jammed and separated
shoulders, bruised wrists and arms, numerous stiff necks and an ankle
so battered in 1984 that he required foam padding on it for two
months. ''Some people knocked Rickey last year for not playing every
game,'' says teammate Don Mattingly. ''But he needs days off. He runs
around centerfield. The pounding he takes on the bases astounds me. I
play first base and don't run, so I don't need days off. But he sure
does.'' Henderson concedes, ''I've got to do extra stretching,
sit-ups, push-ups and some Nautilus weights for my shoulders just to
maintain the strength I've got to have.''
Each has learned to deal with a variety of defensive strategies,
some more ethical than others. For instance, two or three teams in
each league water down first base, causing runners to get a slower
jump. ''The science against stealing has evolved radically in the
last four or five years,'' says Boros. ''That has made it tougher
than ever to steal. Pitchers have quicker deliveries, step off and
quick-pitch, hold the ball. Catchers pitch out much more often. Now
you've got pitching coaches with stopwatches timing pitchers'
deliveries, while other coaches are timing catchers' throws to second
base. Mostly because of these two guys.''
While they made their names running, Henderson and Raines do so
much more. ''I won't like it if Coleman or someone else beats my
record,'' says Henderson. ''I still want to beat Brock's record and
be the first to steal 1,000. But it's different now, especially
playing with the Yankees. There's purpose to my stealing. I took more
chances in Oakland because we didn't have the same kind of hitting.''
''If I went out just to steal, I could steal 150 or 170 bases,''
says Raines. ''But I don't steal bases for myself. I'm a situational
base runner. When I was young, I could always hit, and that's the way
I look at myself.''
Raines takes his hitting very seriously. With a .302 career
average, he finished third in the NL at .320 last year, and this
season he is third at .334. ''I looked to Joe Morgan as my idol,'' he
says of the great second baseman, ''mainly because of my size and the
fact that I then was an infielder. And Joe Morgan could hit.'' When
Raines played at Denver in 1980, he kept a George Brett picture over
his locker, and his devotion to the Charlie Lau school of hitting is
evident in his stance -- on his toes in a crouch, bat straight back.
''There's absolutely no way one can pitch to him,'' says Expo
reliever Jeff Reardon.
Raines's real goal is to lead the league in hitting. ''I think I
can get into the .360-.370 area,'' he says. Last fall, he went to the
Instructional League to work on his bunting because, he says, ''If I
can push a few bunts past the pitcher, it'll bring the shortstop in a
step and add that much more to my hitting.''
Henderson, a .294 hitter in his 6 1/2 seasons, last year hit 24
homers, becoming the first American Leaguer to hit more than 20
homers and steal more than 50 bases; with 15 homers and 51 steals at
the All-Star break this year, he could become an unprecedented 30-100
man. And, as Henderson points out, ''I haven't gotten hot yet.'' When
Boros managed Oakland in 1984, he tried to encourage Henderson to sit
on fastballs when he was ahead in the count and drive them for power.
Henderson resisted. ''I'd made my living getting on base and
running,'' he admits, ''and I didn't understand. I do now.''
''They're set apart from other great leadoff men in almost every
way,'' says Herzog. ''Coleman can run with them but can't hit or walk
with them.'' Of other modern leadoff hitters, Mickey Rivers couldn't
walk with them, Wills didn't have their power, Pete Rose never had
their speed. Bobby Bonds, when he led off for the Giants, comes the
closest to them, but he couldn't withstand the constant pounding of
''Henderson can walk, run, steal, hit for average and hit for
power and drive the pitcher crazy,'' says Yankee general manager
Clyde King. ''I don't know of anything else there is for a leadoff
hitter to do. He'll be the first to have 100 walks, 100 steals and 25
homers in a season. To me, he's the greatest leadoff hitter in the
game, and of all time. I don't know of one in the past who could do
all the things he does as well as he does. When I was with Brooklyn,
Jackie Robinson was the master of rattling the pitcher. Jackie had
great body control, instincts, coordination, but he didn't have the
pure speed Henderson does. Like Jackie, Rickey unnerves just about
While there are a great many similarities between Raines and
Henderson, they have very different personalities. Raines is one of
the most popular players in the game, noted for his engaging batting
cage banter. He is also respected for the honesty and grit he showed
in 1982 in dealing with his cocaine addiction. Other teams worry
about him on the field, but they hold no animosity toward Raines.
Henderson, on the other hand, can infuriate opponents. A private
person, he has a strut that would make Mick Jagger envious, and his
arrogance can be seen in his one-hand, snap catches. ''I used to
think he made it hard on himself because so many people want him to
fail,'' says Boston manager John McNamara. ''But now I think he's so
self-confident, he uses it to his advantage.'' Says Mattingly, ''As
soon as he gets into the on-deck circle, all attention is focused on
him. Managers yell at pitchers, catchers yell at infielders . . . and
pretty soon balls are bouncing all over the place.''
Because of his extreme crouch, which leaves about a 10-inch strike
zone, Henderson is, says Ron Guidry, ''probably the hardest man in
baseball to pitch to.'' When he fights for that strike zone,
Henderson infuriates the opposition. ''He'll drive you crazy,'' says
Earl Weaver. ''He intimidates umpires. I guess they don't want to see
that show he puts on. I know I'm tired of seeing it. But what are
they going to do? If they call a strike on him, Steinbrenner sends a
film to the league office and gets a meeting with the president of
the league.'' Henderson has also been known to take long strolls
after called strikes, but then he says, ''I've got my own clock.''
That may ; explain some of his tardy pregame arrivals. And he does
have style. Nobody wears a uniform the way Henderson does, nobody's
wrist bands are more fluorescent, nobody's eye-black is as defiant to
''All I'm doing is having fun, that's the way I've always done it
and I don't care if some opposing pitcher doesn't like it,'' says
Henderson with a laugh. Oh, that laugh. ''Rickey can hurt a pitcher
more by doing psychological damage than by hitting a homer,'' says
teammate Butch Wynegar. ''He's on first base and he turns into a puma
-- a laughing puma. He makes all those moves, gets low to the ground,
taunts the pitcher. He gets them mad and they think, 'I'm going to
get this guy.' Then, boom -- they throw the ball into the rightfield
corner and now he's on second base, laughing. A slugger is nothing
compared with Henderson in terms of the disruption he can cause. You
take a guy who's going to hit 35 or 40 homers, and you know he's
going to get you once in a while. But you can pitch to him with some
success, and if he gets on base, he isn't going to bother you too
much. I'd rather face anybody -- Dale Murphy, Mattingly, anybody --
Are Henderson and Raines the wave of the future? With the possible
exception of Cincinnati's Eric Davis, who Raines suggests is the next
superstar, there doesn't appear to be anyone in their class.
''There's never been anyone quite like them,'' says Boros. ''And
until someone comes along and proves me wrong, I'm not sure there
ever will be anyone quite like Henderson and Raines.'' END
CHART: TEXT NOT AVAILABLE
NO CREDIT HENDERSON AND RAINES VS. OTHERLEADING MEN Here are some of the best seasons by leadoff hitters in each league since 1920, as assessed by the Elias Sports Bureau. They are compared with the projected season-long 1986 statistics of Henderson and Raines:
AP Combs hit first for the great '27 Yankees.
RONALD C. MODRA Raines, the first player to steal 70 bases five times, appears a blur to Expo foes.
MICKEY PFLEGER Ex-grid star Rickey still graces Wilkerson's wall.
JOHN D. HANLON Henderson, poised to swipe second, is a bother to pitchers, catchers and umps.
RONALD C. MODRA Raines is so eager to improve that he worked on bunting in the Instructional League in '85.
RONALD C. MODRA Tim signs balls while his son Andre, 3, named for Dawson, gets in a few licks.
RONALD C. MODRA By the All-Star break, the two men combined for a .307 average, 92 steals and 21 homers.