Since 1979, Rickey Henderson has gone from the A's to the Yankees, to the Mets to the Dodgers, with stops in between. Since 2003 he has gone from the majors to the minors to what is essentially two guys' school project. Yes, at 46, baseball's alltime leading base thief is a San Diego Surf Dawg.
Two years ago Stanford business students David Kaval (who wrote a book about traveling to all 30 big league parks in 1998) and Amit Patel took a class called Evaluating Entrepreneurial Opportunities. For their six-month project they examined minor league baseball. "We noticed there were no independent leagues west of the Rockies," says Patel. "We live in the Bay Area and felt it would be an ideal market for a minor league." This spring they launched the Golden Baseball League, a circuit with eight teams, including one all-Japanese squad, a few semicelebrity backers and one future Hall of Famer (Henderson).
The Surf Dawg star, who makes the league maximum of $3,000 per month (unlike many of his teammates, he is not living with a host family), isn't the only recognizable name in the GBL, which began play last Friday. Among the investors-Kaval and Patel raised $5 million-are Wheel of Fortune's Pat Sajak and former Chiefs running back Christian Okoye. (Kaval and Patel also negotiated a $3 million sponsorship with Safeway. Salaries are capped at $88,000 per team, and the two founders say they will break even this year.) Former All-Stars Terry Kennedy and Garry Templeton are managers, as is former Expo Warren Cromartie, who starred for seven years in Japan. Cromartie is the boss of the Samurai Bears, an all-Japanese team that came together fairly easily, given that so many minor league clubs in their homeland have lately gone bust. The Bears play all their games on the road, and to get fans in the mood, sushi and bento boxes are served. "We're not competing with major league teams," says Patel. "We're competing with movie theaters and miniature golf courses, those kinds of affordable family entertainment."
And who's more entertaining than Henderson, who showed there's still life in his legs when he went 2 for 3 with two walks and a steal before of a sellout crowd of 3,000 on Opening Night? "The fans were here to see that," said Henderson of his steal. "And I gave them what they wanted." -Chris Mannix
ROBERT BECK (HENDERSON HITTING)
HE'S GOT LEGS
Henderson started off his 30th year in pro ball with two hits and a steal.
JOHN R. MCCUTCHEN/SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE (INSET)