OAKLAND, NOV. 20 -- Rickey Henderson's dazzling array of talents -- speed, defense and hitting for average and power -- outshined the sheer slugging of Detroit's Cecil Fielder to gain the Oakland Athletics' outfielder the American League Most Valuable Player Award today.
"I want to tip my hat to Cecil Fielder," Henderson said. "He had an outstanding year and he deserved to win this award too. But I think because of all the things I did for my team I was able to edge him."
Henderson capped the finest season of his 11-year career by gaining 14 of the 28 first-place votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Henderson's total of 317 points put him narrowly ahead of Fielder, who led the majors with 51 homers and 132 runs batted in. Fielder drew 10 first-place votes and 286 points in the voting by two writers in each AL city.
Henderson said he hasn't been so excited since he broke Lou Brock's one-season stolen base record of 118 by stealing 130 in 1982.
"My next big moment is going to be when I break Brock's all-time stolen base record," said Henderson, who needs three steals to surpass Brock's 938. "If I can play eight or nine more years, I'll put it out of reach -- 1,200 to 1,500 is what I'll shoot for."
"Rickey's the best leadoff man I've ever seen," said Hall of Famer Willie Mays, whose No. 24 is worn by Henderson and National League MVP Barry Bonds of Pittsburgh. "They're both my kids, both great players. Barry's my godson and a wonderful young player. Rickey has everything it takes, the hitting and running and fielding. I've never seen a leadoff man who can do all the things he does so well."
More than the slugging of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, it was Henderson who made the A's go this year. If he didn't open the scoring with a homer or a "Rickey run" -- a walk or single followed by two stolen bases and a sacrifice fly or groundout -- he frequently started rallies that brought the A's back or made the big plays in left field.
Oakland won 26 of the 33 games in which Henderson scored in the first inning. Five of his career-high 28 homers led off games, extending his record to 45 leadoff homers.
Henderson, 31, led the AL in stolen bases for the 10th time, finishing with 65. He also led the majors in runs scored (119) and on-base percentage (.439). He finished second in the AL in batting with a .325 average, to George Brett's .329, and in slugging with a career-high .577 mark, just behind Fielder.
"Rickey and I both helped our teams," Fielder said. "We're two different type teams. In power stats, I did better. For average, he did better.
"Of course I feel like I should have won it. But it's one of those things."
Boston's Roger Clemens, runner-up to Oakland's Bob Welch for the Cy Young Award, finished third in the voting with three first-place votes and 212 points. Oakland reliever Dennis Eckersley, who finished sixth in the voting behind Toronto third baseman Kelly Gruber and Chicago reliever Bobby Thigpen, got the other first-place vote.
Henderson and Fielder were the only players named on all 28 ballots.
The award brought a $100,000 bonus to Henderson, who signed a $12 million, four-year deal a year ago.