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Base-Stealer Henderson Also Swinging Hot Bat

United Press International

People think of Rickey Henderson as being a one-dimensional player but, as any player knows, you can’t steal first base.

Henderson, who holds the major league record for most stolen bases in a season, has been making it to first base regularly this year and whenever that happens it causes headaches for opposing pitchers and catchers.

The speedy New York Yankee outfielder went on a tear in Baltimore recently, reaching base in 14 of 17 trips to the plate while helping the Yankees to a three-game sweep of the Orioles. During one stretch, Henderson reached base 10 straight times. (Ted Williams holds the record for reaching base safely in 16 consecutive plate appearances.)

“Have I ever been this hot before?” asked Henderson. “No, not in this world. Not in terms of reaching base 10 times in a row. But I’ve been hot before. I seem to always get hot right before the All-Star break.”

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Henderson ended that series in Baltimore by going 10 for 11 and increasing his career average against the Orioles to .360 (90 for 250). That is the highest career average for any active player with 100 or more at-bats against Baltimore pitching.

“This is probably the best series in my career,” said the 27-year-old Henderson, a native of Chicago. “After the first game when I got five hits, I was really relaxed. I was swinging the bat low and thinking I was going to get a hit. That’s what you have to do, especially against Baltimore.

“I see the ball in Baltimore real well. They have great lights. And their pitchers are always over the plate. I just try to pick up the ball and hit it.”

Earl Weaver, who had just returned to manage the Orioles a week before the Yankees came to town, saw more than enough of Henderson in that three-game set. Weaver said Henderson uses his sleek 5-9 frame to his advantage at the plate.

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“He’s in command of that strike zone,” said Weaver. “He makes things happen at home plate. He either fools the umpires or outsmarts them. You can say either thing you want, but he gets down in that crouch, which is his natural stance, he comes up on the low pitches when he takes and he goes down on the high pitches when he takes. And believe me, he makes it tough on an umpire.”

Henderson, acquired in an off-season deal from the Oakland A’s and signed to an $8.6-million contract, came to New York to add some spark to the club’s sagging offense. Henderson has done just that--after recovering from a sprained ankle in spring training.

Through June 19, Henderson led the American League in batting at .344 and runs scored with 52. In the one category Henderson is accustomed to leading--stolen bases--he was second to California’s Gary Pettis with 26. But don’t be surprised to see him pass Pettis as he seeks to lead the AL in steals for a sixth straight season.


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