As the NBA and NCAA basketball seasons draw closer to conclusions, I caught myself musing over pitchers and catchers, spring training, and the boys of summer.
I began to speculate about how many more millions of dollars the damn Yankees will spend before (and during) the season to ensure a trip back to the postseason after missing out for the first time in 13 consecutive trips last year.
My mind then drifted to my Texas Rangers and if they will ever emerge from the pitching abyss that has plagued the club for so long.
Then fantasy baseball entered the brain and in a cross-pollination (this happens in my head all the time) with offseason baseball events, I fell into a deep trance pondering what kind of fantasy players this year's Hall of Fame inductees Jim Rice and Rickey Henderson would have been and who they most resemble among active players.
I'm sure some of you have even played in fantasy leagues where you drafted Rickey or maybe even Rice. Probably have to go back to the days of the Strat-O-Matic baseball game to find any takers there.
Breaking down Jim Rice as a fantasy player is tougher for me since I was in first grade when he retired in 1989. But luckily, statistics, accolades, and analyses are available in every Google search and Wikipedia bio, so I have a decent sense of what he could do.
It seems he was the consummate player, serviceable in the outfield with the ability to hit for average, power and production at the plate. When I think of someone on a current roster that contains this skill set the first player that comes to mind is Vladimir Guerrero.
Sure Vladdy is aging some and his numbers have dropped off a bit over the last few seasons, but the guy still bangs out a .300 average every year with 25+ bombs and 100+ RBI.
During Rice's prime, he consistently hovered between the .280 and .320 mark in average, and while Guerrero possesses a little more pop in his bat (what hitter doesn't these days), the former BoSock posted 100 or more RBI in eight of his 16 seasons and had seven campaigns with 25 or more round trippers.
Both of these free-swinging hitters did not like a free ride to first base either. I expected Rice to be more selective that Guerrero (who embodies the Dominican hitting philosophy—if it is white and coming at you then hit it), but when I checked out each's base-on-balls numbers was surprised at my discovery.
Rice's career-high for walks in a season was 62 and Vlad's is 84, and at this point in his career Guerrero has four fewer walks than Rice's total of 670. And with Vladdy being able to hit any pitch from his shoelaces to his helmet, it only makes sense that he's struck out 400 times less than his comparative.
The two players awards comparison is eerily similar also. Albeit in three less seasons, Guerrero is an eight-time All-Star and was crowned with one AL MVP, the exact same accomplishments Rice attained.
With all that being said, Jim Rice was definitely a second to fourth round must have in any fantasy baseball format. He may have hurt you a little bit with his strikeout numbers but looks to have been a solid fantasy performer.
Ample amuse has surrounded Rickey Henderson throughout his professional career but not for his ball-playing abilities. He was one of the most talented athletes, not just pure players, to ever grace the ballfield.
It is very difficult to compare Henderson to a modern day player due to his career longevity (25 seasons) and production so I have attempted to find the next potential Rickey.
This guy could do it all. Henderson racked up stolen bases, walks, run, hits, and was a respected outfielder who could cover ground and keep runners honest with an accurate arm.
A player that comes to mind that possesses most of these qualities now and will improve upon them in the future is Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton. He had 44 base thefts in his second full season last year.
Neither of these guys hit the long bomb consistently. Upton got hot in the 2008 postseason (seven HRs in 16 games) but he had only nine jacks the entire season, which was a major drop off (and probably a sign of things to come) from his 24 in '07.
I wouldn't expect Upton to ever eclipse Rickey's career-high of 28 dingers which he did twice.
Henderson did draw a lot more walks and struck out significantly less that Upton does so he probably won't ever be as quality of a fantasy phenom as Rickey. The 24-year old also has somewhat of an attitude problem, which Rickey was not completely void of, but his was more of a me, me, me complex.
Upton's is almost like a Randy Moss syndrome where he will give maximum effort when and where he feels like it. Something that prompted manager Joe Madden to bench Upton in a few games down the stretch last season to let him know he isn't above the team.
The 130 steals Henderson amassed in 1982 was unworldly. I think the steals leader in my rotisserie league last season didn't have 100 steals from his entire team! So if you took Rickey early in the draft, you would almost undoubtedly wrap up the steals category each and every week.
Upton isn't a first-few-rounds type of fantasy player, yet. He is still young and much of his immaturity can be attributed to that, but this guy, along with many of the Rays' fresh faces, is a player to build a franchise around.
Before I let you go, I have to rekindle a few of Henderson's antics from his beloved spotlight in the media. He will always be remembered for his candid Rickey references, and I think you might be able to find an over/under prop bet in Vegas on how many times he will refer to himself in the third person during his Hall of Fame speech.
I came across a posting last month that was entitled, "Rickey's Top 25 Moments" and wanted to leave you with a few of my favorites:
- A reporter asked Henderson if Ken Caminiti's estimate that 50 percent of Major League players were taking steroids was accurate, his response was, "Well, Rickey's not one of them, so that's 49 percent right there."
- Rickey was asked if he had the Garth Brooks album with the song "Friends in Low Places" and Henderson said, "Rickey doesn't have albums. Rickey has CDs."
- When he was on the Yankees in the mid-'80s, Henderson told teammates that his condo had such a great view that he could see, "The Entire State Building."