I had to let the cards do the talking. The 1987 Topps line is one of the most iconic sets in all of sports card collecting. I grabbed this pack for 75 cents for the sentimental value alone. I was hoping to land another Jose Canseco card like the one below. I have about 100 of these Cansecos. I sat on them thinking one day they would be worth something, then the steroid issue came to life leaving the value of my childhood collection in ruins. The Bash Brothers and Rickey Henderson were my idols back when I was a card collecting fiend in my youth.
Canseco put on light tower batting practices. I got to experience it in person the first year Camden Yards opened up back in 1992. My sister got us seats from a winning bid she submitted in a silent auction. Four seat on the wall in left field, the chances were great in my mind back then of getting a Canseco ball. Unfortunately, every shot to left field was rocketed over my head and fell at least 20 rows behind me. I had undershot all of Jose’s long shots.
However, that wasn’t the best but also most disappointing moments of that game for me. The real reason I wanted to sit the wall in left field was to get the chance to see Rickey Henderson up close and make a run at an autograph between innings. That wasn’t meant to be after I lugged an entire box of Henderson cards into the stadium.
Unfortunately, the fellow that sat next to me that night in the stands decided to show up drunk to the game. All night he heckled Henderson, calling him every name in the book and holding nothing back. When Henderson was in the field the drunkard next to me predicted loudly enough for Rickey to hear, that Henderson would strike out like a ‘insert numerous foul words here’ in his next at bat. To my dismay Henderson struck out leading off the top of the next inning. The berating continued and I could tell Henderson was getting made at the douche beside me…Henderson began to shout back at the buffoon but I can’t remember what he yelled.
The 7th Inning Stretch rolled around and Rickey began to walk directly toward me. It was about to happen, I was going to come face to face with a player that I tried for hours to emulate on the baseball field, all the way down to the twitching fingers just before taking off to steal a base, all the way down to my bright green Henderson replica batting gloves, all the way down to digging my right leg in and swiveling my right hip around as fast as possible to steal second, all the way down to slapping my glove on my leg before shagging a fly ball…you guys understand Rickey was the player I loved as a kid, right? I grew up in Ripkenville, born in the same hospital as the Iron Man himself. Yeah Ripken was on my Mount Rushmore of players when I was a kid, but Henderson was my George Washington.
And I’ll be damned if the drunken fool next to me didn’t ruin what would have been the pinnacle of my collecting as a kid. Ricky hit the warning track just as the piece of crap next to me was in full blast. Just as Henderson got to the wall he made a quick left and went down the wall about 30 feet and started signing for the fans closer to the foul pole. The jackass next to me cost me my chance of meeting the Stolen Base King. To this day I think Henderson thought I was the son of the drunken fool. The chance to meet one of the Gods of Baseball was stolen from me just as fast as Henderson swiping second and heading to third on the overthrow.
But wait, the story doesn’t end there. In the next inning I captured what I consider to be my best ever sports action shot. With my piece of junk camera that I had earned pushing chachkies for the nuns at the private school I went to, I was able to capture the shot that changed my outlook on sports. In reaction to whatever name the drunk called Rickey, Henderson turned directly toward us and gave the numb nuts next to me the middle finger. Snap! Flash! Advance! I caught the exact moment of the state bird of New York being flashed at us like a Phoenix rising from the flames. I still have the picture and I will find it at my parent’s when I visit them. Please remind me months from now to post this picture.
Along with the iconic photo below, I will forever have the sight of my idol giving me the middle finger burned in my mind. Rickey had every right to flash the peace sign at us, well the trash next to me, but it took many years to get over missing out on the autograph that got away. To this day I still do not own a Rickey Henderson autograph.