Alex Rios notched his team-leading 16th home run of the season Friday night, a first-inning solo shot off Jason Hirsh during the Jays’ 9-8 extra-inning win over the Rockies. Though Friday’s homer didn’t come out of the leadoff spot (as Vernon Wells interestingly made his first career start since 2002 in that role), Rios has 12 long balls as the No. 1 hitter this year, the most in the majors in that category.
Through Friday night, Rios has seen action in the leadoff role in 54 of the Jays’ 72 games this season, exactly 75% of the time. Assuming he maintained that pace (which will be difficult when Reed Johnson returns, but still), the right-fielder would hit 27 home runs out of the leadoff spot by the end of the year, which would be quite an accomplishment. In fact, it would be just one short of the mark set by Rickey Henderson, the game’s all-time leadoff home run king. Henderson, perhaps the greatest catalyst of all time, twice managed 28 home runs in the leadoff spot; in 1986 with the New York Yankees; and again in 1990 as a member of the Oakland A’s.
He also managed four homers as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays — that is, after general manager Pat Gillick made a deal for the future hall-of-famer at the 1993 trade deadline. Already possessing one of the most potent offensive lineups in the majors, the Blue Jays welcomed Henderson — a former nemesis — as their new leadoff hitter on August 3. It took 20 games before Henderson notched his first homer in a Toronto uniform, and it fittingly came against his former team — in his first game back. At Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on August 30, Henderson went 2-for-4 with a solo homer in the fifth inning to help lead his new team to a 4-2 win over the A’s.
It could be argued that that was Henderson’s best game as a Blue Jay. Truth be told, it’s debatable whether or not the addition of Henderson improved the Toronto ball club at all. Gillick even later admitted he shouldn’t have made the deal. At any rate though, it was certainly exciting for a lot of Blue Jay fans to see perhaps the greatest leadoff man in the history of baseball suit up for the home team.
In 44 regular season games for Toronto in ’93, Henderson batted just .215 while posting a .356 on-base percentage. That weak effort continued into the playoffs, as the Jays’ new left-fielder went 0-for-6 in the ALCS opener against the Chicago White Sox. For the series, Henderson posted a meager .120 (3-for-25) batting average with a pair of stolen bases and four runs scored.
He fared a little better in the World Series, batting .227 (5-for-22) with a .393 on-base percentage and six runs scored against the Phillies. Perhaps his greatest contribution though, came during his last plate appearance of the series in the ninth inning of Game 6 at SkyDome. Trailing by a run and facing ‘Wild Thing’ Mitch Williams, Henderson drew a walk to open the frame, giving Williams a distraction as he tried to close out the game. After a Devon White fly out to center, Henderson moved up to second base on a Paul Molitor single, which set the stage for Joe Carter.
With perhaps the best view in the house, save for Williams of course, Henderson watched as Carter connected on a 2-2 slider, driving the ball over the left-field fence to produce the greatest moment in Toronto Blue Jays history. By the time Carter reached home plate, Henderson was ready, along with the rest of his teammates, to greet their hero and begin the celebration.