Figgins sings praises of Rickey
Angels leadoff man tells how the Hall of Famer inspired him
ANAHEIM -- For Chone Figgins, Sunday was special. In faraway Cooperstown, N.Y., Rickey Henderson -- the best ever at what Figgins does -- was taking his place with Jim Rice and the late Joe Gordon among the immortals of the game.
"When you look at what Rickey did, it's incredible," said Figgins, the Angels' leadoff catalyst and American League leader in runs scored. "To steal the bases he did and score the runs he did, playing that long, he was on another level.
"For leadoff men, he set a standard. It's something for all of us to try to reach, even though it's practically impossible."
Figgins and Henderson have a lot in common, including a shared philosophy about the game and how it should be played. Both believed that everything started at the top and flowed down, the leadoff man setting the tone for all those behind him in the lineup with his energy, plate discipline and ability to ignite rallies.
They also have a shared belief that the single most overlooked stat in their sports is runs scored. As Henderson used to say, you get those only one at a time. Runs batted in can come in bunches. His point was that runs scored form a more demanding and a truer test of a player's ability and durability.
Henderson crossed home plate more times -- 2,295 -- than any player in history. That, he has said, was his "greatest accomplishment." He also stole more bases in his career (1,406) and in a season (130) than anybody else.
"When you look at his runs scored," Figgins said, "that's when you have to shake your head and wonder how he did that."
Henderson scored 100 or more runs in 11 seasons. He's known primarily for his work in Oakland, but he played all over the baseball map -- including Anaheim very briefly. He had arguably his most productive back-to-back seasons with the Yankees in 1985-86, scoring 146 and 130 runs, respectively. For two seasons, the man scored 276 runs in a total of 296 games.
"That's amazing," Figgins said. "Crazy."
Figgins has been on a nice run of his own, reaching the 30-steal plateau for the sixth consecutive season with three thefts on Saturday against the Twins, giving him 31 for the season. It's rare company with good buddy Juan Pierre of the Dodgers, Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies and Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners being the only other active players who join Figgins with at least five consecutive seasons of 30-plus steals.
Figgins beat all three to 30 this season, trailing only four players. The Rays' Carl Crawford leads the Majors with 47.
"I'm pretty proud of that," Figgins said. "I know what goes into stealing 30 bags, and it's not easy. I'm also very happy to be leading the league in runs scored. That's what I'm here for."
He's also in an Angels uniform to play quality defense at third base, hit -- he's at .312 -- and get on base. His .394 on-base percentage trails only the Yankees' Derek Jeter (.396) among the Majors' regular leadoff hitters.
"I'm reading about Rickey right now," Figgins said, digging into the 2009 Hall of Fame yearbook before the Angels went out to face the Twins at Angel Stadium.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.