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October 12, 2001

by Bill Hogan



Forrest Gump, the simpleton from Greenbow, Alabama, seemed destined for greatness. He managed, over the course of his lifetime, to stumble into the middle of just about every major historical event of his time.

The leg afflictions and fear of neighborhood bullies that dominated his childhood served to propel him to gridiron greatness at the U. of Alabama and the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.


If "life is like a box of chocolates" then Forrest Gump is the piece with all the nuts and cherries. And Rickey Henderson is the one that you take a bite out of and spit out. Rickey Henderson, the talented baseball player from Chicago, is the anti-Gump.

In stark contrast to Forrest, Rickey's tremendous baseball talents and accomplishments never seem to find the headlines. Oh, they find the papers, but it's usually a 'bigger' event that garners the front (or back) page.

Forrest Gump, the simpleton from Greenbow led a charmed life. He was a world Ping-Pong champion and a successful businessman (remember Bubba-Gump Shrimp?). Rickey Henderson is the anti-Gump.

It may have been pre-destined for Rickey to spend an entire, almost certain, hall of fame baseball career relegated to sub-headlines and sidebars. In 1958, when Rickey Henley Henderson was born, a large portion of the world was celebrating another major event. Rickey was born on Christmas day.

Forrest Gump, the simpleton from Greenbow, was a fixture in the headlines of the American press. He shook hands with presidents. And marched with Nobel Peace Prize winners.

In 1989, after eleven seasons in the big leagues, Rickey made it to his first World Series with the Oakland A's. Rickey had been traded to Oakland from the Yankees before the All-Star break that year and he was happy to be back in the Bay Area playing for the American League Champs. Life was good. The A's were leading their cross-bay rival San Francisco Giants 2 games to 0 in the series. Just before the start of game 3 in San Francisco, a massive earthquake hit the Bay Area. The damage was devastating to Northern California.

Eleven days later, the World Series finally ended, the A's swept the Giants, Rickey batted .474. All at a time when baseball was just an afterthought. Rickey got the ring, but not the headlines. Rickey Henderson is the anti-Gump.

On May 1, 1991, Rickey achieved the one goal he coveted most. He became baseball's all-time greatest base stealer. In the third inning of a game between the Oakland A's and New York Yankees, Rickey swiped second base to move past Lou Brock with 939 career stolen bases. The big news should give Rickey the sportspage headline in every major newspaper in the country!

Hold on. That very same day, there's another game going on between the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays. And as it happens, 44-year-old Nolan Ryan tosses his record setting seventh no-hitter! Guess who got the headlines. Not the anti-Gump!

If "stupid is as stupid does", Forrest Gump, the simpleton from Greenbow, was a genius. Everything he did had the Midas touch. Everything he did was a documented part of history.

In 2001 Rickey set a few more records. He passed Babe Ruth as the all-time leader in career walks. He replaced Ty Cobb atop the list of most career runs. Noteworthy? Yes. Newsworthy? Yes. But the anti-Gump was going head-to-head with bigger news.

As Rickey crept up on, and passed Ruth and Cobb, Barry Bonds was closing in on Mark McGwire's seventy home run record. Bonds got the record and, naturally, the headlines. As the popular phrase presumably coined by Forrest goes, "S**t happens".

This past Sunday, the fans in San Diego saw the great Tony Gwynn play his last baseball game. They gave him a well-deserved sendoff. And, oh by the way, Rickey got his 3,000th career hit. "S**t happens".

After 22 years, Rickey has compiled hall of fame numbers. Along the way, he's made thirteen different moves to seven different teams. And along the way, he has alienated coaches, teammates, and fans.

He's had numerous battles with the sports media. Maybe, they've been reluctant to give Rickey the headlines because of the constant rifts. Or maybe he's just been unlucky. Forrest Gump was lucky - and he was a nice guy.

Baseball fans have watched Rickey run. He ran himself right into the record books. Movie goers have encouraged Forrest Gump to run - "Run, Forrest, Run!" Rickey Henderson is the anti-Gump.

It's a safe bet that on a warm, sunny day a couple of years down the road, Rickey will be standing at a podium in Cooperstown giving his Hall of Fame speech. I can't help but wonder what other great event will be happening at the same time to steal his thunder - again.

Heck, he couldn't even muster the headline in this story. Oh well, "stupid is as stupid does."


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