Rickey Henderson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday. It came as no surprise. Ricky is the game’s top base stealer with 1,406. He played forever (25 MLB seasons), is considered the best leadoff hitter in baseball history and was always entertaining with a mic in his face.
My esteemed colleague Phillips, a lifelong Padres fan, was anxiously awaiting Rickey’s acceptance speech. Who knew what would come out of his mouth?
But on Sunday, The King of Steal was at his thieving best. He robbed Phillips of 15 minutes.
For the past few weeks, Henderson had been attending two summer courses (Public Speaking and Introduction to Speech) at a community college in Oakland to prepare for his Cooperstown induction. He practiced in front of classmates and even had home tutoring sessions with his professor, former MLBer Earl Robinson. There was an excitement about how Rickey would choose to immortalize himself.
However, during Sunday’s Hall of Fame speech, Henderson was surprisingly modest (while tripping over proper noun and verb usage) and even more shockingly, he avoided referring to himself in the third-person. Here are the highlights from the MLB Network.
“My favorite hero was Muhammad Ali. He said at one time – quote – I am the greatest – end of quote. That is something I always wanted to be. And now the (baseball writers) association has voted me into the Baseball Hall of Fame, my journey as a player is complete.
“I am now in the class of the greatest baseball players of all time. At this moment, I am…very, very humble.”
Humble? Whatever happened to, “Today, I am the greatest of all-time. Thank you.”
Who invited Buzz Killington? Oh well, congrats anyways Rickey. And in your honor, we’ve taken the liberty of pointing out some of our favorite thieves of all-time. Who is the greatest, remains to be seen.
Thomas Crown – In 1968, he seduced a young Faye Dunaway (which I know is hard for most of our target audience to imagine) and then 31 years later he got to nail Rene Russo on marble stairs. Well played sir.
Mo Vaughn – Baseball’s Robin Hood? Vaughn stole from the wicked (New York Mets) and has given back to the poor. And anyone who takes more than $46.5 million from the Metropolitans in three years is a personal hero of mine (despite the evidence he cheated).
Despite not playing at all in 2001 because of a knee injury, baseball’s answer to Isiah Thomas, aka Steve Phillips, traded Kevin Appier to the Angels for Big Mo. Phillips, the poster child for incompetency, was convinced the 1995 AL MVP would rebound from his injuries after watching Vaughn hit off a tee.
In 2003, Vaughn was the fourth-highest paid player in baseball, earning $17,166,667. The three-time All-Star played in just 27 games because of injury, meaning he made an average of $635,802.48 a game. That number is actually a hell of a discount considering he made another $17 million in 2004 without putting a uniform on.
After baseball, Vaughn has bought and fixed up more than 1,000 homes in New York City, providing low cost housing. His company, OMNI New York LLC, is also involved in Las Vegas, Miami, Boston and Cheyenne, Wy. If you want to live in any of Vaughn’s reclamation projects , he wants you to know he doesn’t tolerate guns, drugs and criminal behavior.
Funny, seeing as Vaughn was one of the higher profile names Kirk Radmoski produced in the Mitchell Report. Radomski had three checks from Vaughn totaling $8,600, which Radomski claimed was for HGH.
Ruben Rivera – A reserve outfielder with the New York Yankees, Rivera was released in 2002 after he stole Derek Jeter’s bat and glove from his locker and sold them for $2,500. Now why a guy who signed a $1 million guaranteed contract would need to steal and then slang a teammate’s equipment is unknown. It’s just a good thing he didn’t steal Jeter’s jockstrap. Rumor is it might have been contagious.
Charles Ponzi – America’s greatest swindler, this Italian immigrant was the original Bernie Madoff. Exact numbers on how much money he wrestled away from investors is nearly impossible to figure, but it most likely reached more than $15 million – in 1920, mind you.
Having spent two earlier stints in prison, Ponzi hatched a plan to make himself rich. By buying discounted postal reply coupons in other countries and redeeming that at face value in the U.S., he promised clients a 50 percent profit within 45 days or 100 percent profit within 90 days. Buying assets at a lower price in one market and immediately selling them in a market where the price is higher (arbitrage) is not illegal.
His early investors were paid out $750 interest on initial investments of $1,250. Ponzi then started the Security Exchanges Company to take his scheme mainstream. He made $5,000 by February 1920 and then $30,000 by March. The scheme spread across the northeast. By May, Ponzi made $420,000 (which equates to $4.59 million in 2008 terms). As investors were seeing sizable returns on their investments they would reinvest rather than cash out. As long as new investors kept coming in, Ponzi could pay existing investors with the new money.
A newspaper ran an article implying it was impossible for Ponzi’s operation to be legal. Ponzi sued for libel and won $500,000. Another article later proved even more profitable for Ponzi.
On July 24, 1920, the Boston Post printed a piece painting Ponzi in a favorable light, writing that he was providing investors with a 50 percent return after 45 days. On the same page as that article was an ad for a bank offering a 5 percent annual return. Ponzi was inundated with even more investors. He was making $250,000 a day. But two days later, the paper’s editors assigned two investigative reporters to dig deeper just in case. Noted financier Clarence Barron told the Boston Post that if Ponzi’s business was legitimate there would have to be 160 million postal reply coupons in circulation. According to the U.S. Post Office, there were just 27,000 in use.
The latest articles caused people to panic and pull their money from Ponzi’s operation. He paid out $2 million in three days. Massachusetts District Attorney Daniel Gallagher commissioned an audit on the Securities Exchange Company. However, Ponzi’s bookkeeping of just index cards with investor’s names on it made the task a difficult one.
Ponzi hired a publicist (William McMasters) to spin in his favor, but McMasters found Ponzi to be a “financial idiot,” and went to the Post with his story, which disputed Ponzi’s claim that he had $7 million in liquid funds, when in actuality, with interest, Ponzi was $7 million in debt.
Already under investigation, Ponzi tried to swing some last minute maneuvering with banks, but it was over. Investors were invited to go to the Massachusetts State House to provide their names, addresses and financial dealings with Ponzi. The Post ran a front page story about the audit and Ponzi’s prior arrest record. Ponzi surrendered to federal authorities August 12 and then the judicial system had its fun with him. He was charged with 86 counts of mail fraud and spent three and a half years in prison. Immediately after his release, Massachusetts charged him with larceny. While out on bail, he moved to Florida and sold land, some submerged beneath swamps, promising 200 percent returns in 60 days. A Florida court found him guilty of violating the state’s trust and securities laws. He was sentenced to a year in prison, but appealed his conviction and was freed on $1,500 bond. He was caught trying to flee the United States when he (now sporting a shaved head and mustache) tried to sneak out of the country on a boat to Italy. He was sent back to Massachusetts and served seven more years in prison. Upon his release in 1934, he was deported back to Italy penniless.
Back in Italy, Ponzi managed a to get a gig in Mussolini’s financial arm of the government. But McMasters’ observation of Ponzi being a “financial idiot” rang true and after a string of awful dealings, Ponzi fled to Brazil, running with money from the Italian treasury.
In a final interview on his death bed, Ponzi said of his duped investors, “Even if they never got anything for it, it was cheap at that price. Without malice aforethought I had given them the best show that was ever staged in their territory since the landing of the Pilgrims! It was easily worth 15 million bucks to watch me put the thing over.”
In all, Ponzi’s investors received less than 30 cents on the dollar in their overall dealings with him.
Greg Norman – The Shark? More like The Snake. Norman divorced his wife of 26 years to marry his good friend’s wife. Talk about a bogey. His new wife? She’d be none other than Jim Rome’s favorite former tennis great, Chris Evert.
The two-time British Open champion began dating Evert before she served Andy Mill with divorce papers. Evert, who earlier in life was engaged to Jimmy Connors and married to John Lloyd for eight years, wed Mill, a two-time Olympian downhill skier, in 1988 and had three sons with him during their 18 years of marriage.
In the book, “The Rivals: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova Their Epic Duels and Extraordinary Friendship,” Evert gushed about her wedded bliss.
“Andy and I have been married 15 years, and I said to him just the other day that I feel closer to him than ever. I mean, it’s different. It’s not the goose bumps-passion-fireworks kind of thing. It’s more like knowing he’s a keeper. And I just know that I’m going to grow old with him.”
Guess she could have used a few more of those goosebumps. Luckily, good pal Norman was around to get her arm hair erect like Bermuda grass. Mill and Evert used to enjoy couples getaways with Norman and his now ex-wife Laura in Florida. After learning of their burgeoning affair, Mill was surprisingly diplomatic.
“These two people have really meant a lot to me for a long time. At thing point I just wish them great happiness,” he told People.
Mill’s best friend Paul Tejara was a little less empathetic.
“It was like the ultimate betrayal. To find out she was with Greg Norman was a shock.”
Norman divorced his wife in 2007. Evert and Mill divorced in December 2006. The Shark and Chrissie tied the knot in June 2008. Asked if she thought she was rushing into marriage with Norman so soon after their divorces Evert answered, “At our age, over 50…It’s not like you’re 18. Both us have lived long enough to know.”
After the duo’s relationship escalated to marriage, Mill sharpened his teeth a little.
“Greg Norman at one time was my best friend and a year and a half ago I would have taken a bullet for this guy,” Mill said. “I didn’t realize he was the one who was going to pull the trigger.”
It wasn’t all bad for Mill. He got roughly $7 million and kept the $4 million vacation home in Aspen as well his Porsche.
Norman lives with Evert in Florida, with Mills’ three sons.
Nakamura Jirokichi – Known rather affectionately as Nezumi Kozo, which translates to “Rat Boy,” Jirokichi was a common laborer and volunteer firefighter, who lived a double life of ninja thievery at night and became a hero of Japanese peasants in the early 19th century.
Over a 15-year period, Jirokichi claimed to have burglarized 100 samurai estates, taking home in excess of 30,000 ryo. (During those days, one ryo was enough to sustain a family for an entire year and the theft of 10 ryo was worth a death sentence.)
Despite stealing large sums, he had little money when he was captured in 1831. This led many to believe he had redistributed his booty with the poor (ala Robin Hood). Most historians argue he blew most of his money like a first round NFL draft pick: on women and booze.
Either way, he was celebrated because his crimes embarrassed the wealthy feudal lords many Japanese peasants were growing weary of. His grave site is such a popular visiting place that his tombstone has had to be replaced a number of times because people chip away pieces of the stone for good luck.
There are a few theories regarding the adoption of his nickname. There’s the obvious: he’s a thief, therefore a rat. Some argue he got the name because he was short with rat-like features. Others believe it was because he broke in through the roof, creeping through the attic like a rat. A better explanation might be the legend he always carried a bag of rats with him during robberies. He would apparently let the rats loose to deceive the homeowners, making them think the scurrying they heard was just vermin.
In 1822, he was caught and tattooed with a stripe across his arm and banished from what is now Tokyo. Ten years later, he was caught again by a passing police officer as he left the scene of his latest robbery. The popular branded thief was tied to a horse and paraded throughout the city before being beheaded. His head was put on a spike and displayed for all to see.
Prior to his arrest, Jirokichi served divorce papers to his wives, so they wouldn’t share in his punishment, which the law called for at the time. Luckily, Greg Norman wasn’t born yet.
John Croce – Brother of former Philadelphia 76ers president Pat Croce, John was the team’s strength and conditioning coach. Emphasis on “was.” Croce was fired when hidden cameras caught him stealing money out of Allen Iverson’s locker. The hidden cameras were put into place after a number of players complained to team general manager Billy King about missing cash. In a Jan. 12, 2001 team press release, the 76ers said Croce left the team to pursue other career opportunities. Like being a degenerate.