Yeah, it’s a publicity stunt, but a rather entertaining one.
As far as publicity stunts go, this is a pretty good one: The independent Golden Baseball League (GBL) has offered professional baseball superstar Rickey Henderson a million dollars if he elects to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown as a San Diego Surf Dawg.
Of course, the beauty of the stunt is that players don’t decide anymore which cap is on their enshrinement plaque — the Hall of Fame does. And while we’re guessing he’ll go in wearing an ‘A’ (Henderson played the most years and has his best seasons as an Athletic), we can pretty much predict he’ll not be going in as a Surf Dawg. That doesn’t minimize the beauty of the press release from the GBL.
"Rickey played his final professional season in the Golden Baseball League in 2005 as a key member of the championship winning San Diego Surf Dawgs," said Golden Baseball League CEO David Kaval. "Cooperstown is the National Baseball Hall of Fame for professional players and the San Diego Surf Dawgs were Rickey’s last professional team and one of only three teams, along with the 1989 Oakland Athletics and 1993 Toronto Blue Jays, that Rickey won a championship with. We stood by Rickey in 2005 when no major league team would sign him and continue to support him with this offer. We are confident that Rickey will be a first ballot selection and we look forward to seeing a bronzed Surf Dawg cap displayed on his Hall of Fame plaque."
Henderson played the entire 2005 season for the San Diego Surf Dawgs in the inaugural season of the Golden Baseball League, the premiere independent professional league in western North America, under Manager Terry Kennedy. He appeared in 73 of his team’s 88 games, hitting .270 as he stole 16 bases and led the league with 73 walks as a 46 year old centerfielder. His team went on to post the best record in the league, led by four former Major League 1st round draft choices, and is considered one of the legendary independent professional teams of the modern era. Both coaches, plus the manager ended up signed by major league organizations along with four of the players, although not Henderson.
Rickey thrilled the GBL crowds that gathered to see him play with outstanding baseball on the field and with several uniquely Rickey moments off the field. From being ejected in the first inning during Little League Day at Tony Gwynn Stadium in San Diego and then spending the next nine inninngs in the stands rotating seats throughout the ballpark to sit with different little league teams to driving through the desert in a pickup truck with a lettuce farmer to reach Yuma by game time after being removed from his flight for not hanging up his cellphone fast enough, Rickey embraced the intimacy of the independent minors and demonstrated his love for the game regardless of where he was playing. His quest to be signed that year and spend one last day in a major league uniform and officially retire went unfulfilled. His championship game win at the end of that season was the last time he would wear a professional uniform as a player after first donning one 29 years earlier in 1976 in Boise, Idaho as a rookie in Oakland’s farm system.
"This is a legitimate offer and a signed agreement has been sent to Rickey." continued Kaval. "Considering that Rickey played for nine major league teams in his career this gives him an excellent solution to the problem of slighting any of those fine organizations by picking a favorite. We would gladly donate the funds to a charity of Rickey’s choice and look forward to being with him in Cooperstown on July 26th next summer."
In addition, the GBL will donate Rickey’s final professional jersey and hat, now on display at the San Diego Museum of Sports History to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Golden Baseball League already has a team in the Hall of Fame as the 2005 Japan Samurai Bears, the first professional Japanese team to play as a regular member of a U.S. professional sports league had a jersey and team ball requested by Hall of Fame President Dale Petrosky at the conclusion of the 2005 season.