In Cooperstown this afternoon, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted its Class of 2009, headlined by one of the more charismatic figures in Major League history, Rickey Henderson.
Many anticipated Henderson's induction speech today, in hopes that it might live up to the legend that is Rickey Henderson. The man who broke Lou Brock's stolen base record of 938, and then proclaimed himself to be the greatest of all time, took the stage Sunday, and a funny thing happened.
He didn't excessively baost of how great of a player he was, aside from a joke early on, and a remark of how he always looked up to Muhammad Ali and can relate to his "I am the greatest," quote. No, instead, Henderson spent the majority of his speech reminiscing on his journey to the Major Leagues.
He thanked God, first and foremost.
He thanked his mother, who was too worried about him getting hurt playing football, so he decided on baseball.
He thanked the man responsible for him first playing baseball, by tricking him with a glazed doughtnut and a cup of hot cocoa.
He joked about how when he was young he would try to ask Reggie Jackson for an autograph, but only wound up with a pen with Jackson's name on it.
He didn't wing it at all, but continually glanced down to his prepared notes, stumbling a few times. You could tell that he was a little bit nervous giving this speech, in front of this crowd, on his day. It was something we weren't used to from a man who showed no nerves when he stole 1,406 bases throughout his career.
The man who was known for referring to himself in the third person in front of the media, made zero third person references in his induction speech. It's something that we, as fans, were not expecting from him. Towards the end of his speech, he admitted how humbled he was, being inducted into the Hall of Fame along with the greatest baseball players of all-time, 50 of whom were in attendance Sunday.
So that's what it took to humble one of the most cavalier (and rightfully so, I might add) players in MLB history: acceptance into baseball immortality, surrounded by 50 other immortals, and in front of thousands of awestruck fans.
Rickey's speech wasn't vintage Rickey. It was a seemingly more mature Rickey. It wasn't the Rickey we grew to know and love over the years, but it was certainly the Rickey we all love.