Rickey Henderson's "I'm the Greatest of All Time" Speech Has Been Grossly Misremembered & Misrepresented


Every five seconds this weekend, you've heard someone make a crack about Rickey Henderson's infamous "greatest of all time" speech, given after he set the all time steals mark. In actuality, Rickey's speech was gracious, more personal than most and far from everyone's apparent nightmare vision of an African-American screaming "I'm the greatest of all time" and storming off. Hell, he freaking told Billy Martin he loved him.

Here's what he actually said, per wikipedia and his book Confessions of a Thief:

It took a long time, huh? [Pause for cheers] First of all, I would like to thank God for giving me the opportunity. I want to thank the Haas family, the Oakland organization, the city of Oakland, and all you beautiful fans for supporting me. [Pause for cheers] Most of all, I'd like to thank my mom, my friends, and loved ones for their support. I want to give my appreciation to Tom Trebelhorn and the late Billy Martin. Billy Martin was a great manager. He was a great friend to me. I love you, Billy. I wish you were here. [Pause for cheers] Lou Brock was the symbol of great base stealing. But today, I'm the greatest of all time. Thank you.

 

The gap between what he actually said -- he even thanked Tom Trebelhorn fo goodness sakes -- and what people think he said is really embarrassingly large. This afternoon, I was for some reason briefly watching the Nationals on MASN, and Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble spent about five minutes on the speech. At one point, Carpenter said that two of the most famous speeches in baseball history being with "today". Carpenter went on to compare Rickey's speech unfavorably to Lou Gehrig's. (Interestingly, according to letters only recently made public, Gehrig was convinced he was going to recover from ALS deep into his illness, in part because of a campaign waged by his doctor and wife in secret to not tell him the truth about his condition.) Carpenter's characterization of the speech again reinforced the notion that Rickey grabbed the microphone, said a variation of "Today I am the greatest of all time" and lifted his arms to the sky.

How did we get to the point where the last five seconds -- minus the "thank you" of course -- became all people think the speech was? Did someone at Sportscenter back in 1991 just clip that mini-soundbyte back in the day, and somehow that's all that got replayed?

It's odd how things gain currency and get passed on as what happened. You'd think the internet era, where the facts, the video, the photo are just a google search away, would help play a part in not letting TV clips edited for commercial purposes be the beginning and the end of our memories. Who knows?

We can handle the Jon Olerud urban legend another day, but needless to say... just because you hear something from Bob Costas, it doesn't mean it's true.

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