Monday, March 28, 2005

The Trial of Ricky Henderson: A Two Act Play by Mark Hughson

The Players:

RICKEY HENDERSON (a baseball player, defendant)

JUDGE (a judge)

PROSECUTOR (just passed the bar exam, working for the naysayers)

DEFENSE LAWYER (pitched a one-hitter while on the junior varsity team)

JURY (culled from Nickel Beer Night at Shea Stadium)

JOHN OLERUD (baseball player)

VINCE COLEMAN (baseball player, arsonist)

BOBBY BONILLA (baseball player, jerk)

BAILIFF (courtroom security)


Setting: In a small courtroom, somewhere in the northeast, sometime around the All-Star break.

Trial Day 3

BAILIFF: All rise.

JUDGE (enters from his chambers): Be seated. Court is now in session. Will the defendant please rise…and, in respect to my courtroom, will the defendant please remove his wraparound sunglasses? How does the defendant plead?

DEFENSE LAWYER: The defendant pleads not guilty on all counts your honor.

JUDGE: Prosecutor, may we have your opening statement?

PROSECUTOR: Thank you, your honor. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, today you’ll hear many “stories.” You’ll observe a lot of fan fare about this supposed “Man of Steal.” This “Dog of Style,” and this “Hitter of Many Leadoff Homeruns.” Do not be fooled, ladies and gentlemen. You’ll be presented with the backs of many baseball cards, hear supposed “expert” commentaries, and maybe even be star struck, as people like Eric Plunk and Mike Gallego

(Complete silence…crickets chirp in the distance)

…Will sit on the witness stand. Do not be fooled, people! Rickey Henderson is as guilty as a modern day baseball is juiced. And I will prove it!

JUDGE (nodding to the Defense Lawyer): Your turn.

DEFENSE LAWYER: People of the box seats, as much as the Prosecutor would like you to swing at all his seemingly confident baseball babble, you must have a keen eye. Watch out for his Ozzie Smith back flip law-talk. You might think he’s going to throw some evidence right down the pipe, but instead he’ll try to pick you off. This whole trial is founded on speculation, not hard statistical evidence! He’ll intentionally walk you right down a vile and base path of untruths and conjecture. My client is as innocent as it is confusing as to why people think Nomar Garciaparra is a hunk.

JUDGE: Prosecutor, call your first witness.

PROSECUTOR: The prosecution calls Vince Coleman.

(Vince Coleman takes the stand)

BAILIFF: Put your left hand on the Bible; hold up your right hand. Do you promise not to swing any golf clubs?


PROSECUTOR: Mr. Coleman, tell me, what is your relationship like with Mr. Henderson?

COLEMAN: Well, I don’t know him all that well. I respect him as an athlete…

PROSECUTOR: Oh c’mon now! Don’t play games here Mr. Coleman. Weren’t you a teammate of his early in 1994, with The Kansas City Royals?

COLEMAN: That was Dave Henderson, not Rickey Henderson.

PROSECUTOR: Oh. Well, you were also a teammate of his on the 1998 Mets, isn’t that correct?

COLEMAN: No, I retired in 1997.

PROSECUTOR (sighing slightly): Well then, when you were with the Mets, the same team that Rickey Henderson has played on, isn’t it true that you lit and threw a firecracker at a woman and two children? Just answer the question yes or no!


(Jury gasps)

PROSECUTOR (Smiling smugly at Defense Lawyer): Your witness.

DEFENSE LAWYER: Do you bear any relevance to this case, Mr. Coleman?

COLEMAN: No, I don’t believe so.

DEFENSE LAWYER: When you threw that firecracker, was it more of a lollipop throw, or a shotgun-arm throw?

COLEMAN: It was lollipop.

(Jury gasps)

JUDGE: You may sit down now, Mr. Coleman.

PROSECUTOR: I’d like to call my next witness, John Olerud, to the stand…

(Olerud proceeds to the stand)

…Mr. Olerud, were you once a teammate of Rickey Henderson’s?

OLERUD: Yes I was, three times actually, with three different teams, he was traded in 1993 for…

PROSECUTOR: A simple yes or no will do. And while you were teammates, didn’t he rudely ask you why you wear a batting helmet all the time?

OLERUD: Actually, no, he didn’t. That was just a misunderstanding, which became a false rumor, perpetrated by the press.

PROSECUTOR: So you say. So you say…

JUDGE: ….Prosecutor…do you have another question for the witness?

PROSECUTOR: Why do you wear a batting helmet all the time Mr. Olerud?

OLERUD: Many years ago, I had a brain aneurysm. I wear the helmet as a safety precaution.

PROSECUTOR: For safety, eh? …And why aren’t you wearing one now?!?!

OLERUD: Because…I’m not…on a baseball field. I’m not in any danger here.

PROSECUTOR: You are aware that Vince Coleman is on the premises, right?

JUDGE: Ok, that’s enough. Defense, your witness.

DEFENSE LAWYER: Mr. Olerud, did you ever have any problems whatsoever when Rickey Henderson was your teammate?

OLERUD: No, he was a good teammate, I was glad to share the field with him.

DEFENSE LAWYER: What about when you were not teammates, when you were playing against each other? When Mr. Henderson was on first base, and you were right behind him, did he ever fart, or do anything of that nature?

OLERUD: No, I don’t recall smelling anything of that nature.


PROSECUTOR: Permission to cross-examine, your honor!

JUDGE: Granted.

PROSECUTOR: This brain aneurysm, does it affect your sense of smell in any way?

OLERUD: No, it doesn’t.

(Prosecutor sighs, sits back down)

JUDGE (to Olerud): You may step down. We’ll have a short recess…and no pepper ball out back please!


Trial Day 9

PROSECUTOR: I’d like to call my prime witness, Roberto Martin Antonio Bonilla…

(Bonilla takes the stand)

...Mr. Bonilla, I’ll get right to the point. We all know that you were once the teammate of Rickey Henderson. We also know that at the time, the Mets were in contention for NLCS title…

DEFENSE LAWYER: Objection! Whether or not the Mets were in contention is irrelevant to this case!

JUDGE: Sustained, no one cares about the Mets, prosecutor.

PROSECUTOR: Very well then. Mr. Bonilla, tell me, when you were playing in…some series, in the fall, isn’t it true that you and Rickey Henderson were playing cards in the locker room, as the NLCS title was slipping out of your team’s hands?

DEFENSE LAWYER: Judge, I object again! The Mets never had a firm grasp on the NLCS title; Piazza and Olerud carried the team, and the rotation fell apart after Leiter and Reed. They were down in the series 0-3! The prosecutor is leading the witness!

JUDGE: Sustained. Prosecutor, please refrain from mentioning how the Mets might’ve had the cajones (but didn’t), to take on the Braves for the NCLS.

PROSECUTOR: Fine, I extract that part of my statement, but the question still stands: Did you or did you not play cards with Rickey Henderson?

BONILLA: That is completely untrue, your honor. I was in the locker room only for a minute or two. I had to make a phone call in order to organize the off-season activities of the BBBBB Club…

PROSECUTOR: The….BBBBB Club? What, pray tell is that?

BONILLA (chuckles): It’s actually a very prestigious and elite club. BBBBB stands for 2 B’ed Baseballers Bettering Businesses. It’s a non-profit organization that helps small, independent companies get on their feet. Bo Belinksky founded it in 1963. Currently its members include Bruce Bochy, Bob Bailor, Bret Barberie, Buddy Bell, Bruce Benedict, Bud Black, Brett Butler, and myself. Bert Blyleven is our president emeritus.

PROSECUTOR: I see. And what about Barry Bonds? Why isn’t he in your little club?

BONILLA: We asked him, but he’s already involved in another club, the BB FAST Club.

PROSECUTOR: BB FAST Club? I’ve never heard of it. Does it have anything to do with John Hughes?

BONILLA: Double B’ed Fathers And Sons Together Club. Barry and Bobby Bonds, Bob and Bret Boone make up most of their roster…

PROSECUTOR: Well that explains why those guys aren’t in BBBBB, but what about Bill Buckner?

EVERYONE: (laughing): Hahahahahahahhaha!

PROSECUTOR: Just kidding. So you were making a phone call…

BONILLA: That’s right, trying to get the first BBBBB meeting set up. I had my wallet out so I could use my phone card—the GM Steve Phillips was such a cheap bastard. While I was on the phone, I saw Rickey go to the bathroom, but I don’t think he saw me. Just as I got off the phone, Rickey came out of the bathroom and bumped into me. We both were surprised and jostled a bench that had playing cards on it, and the cards fell all over the floor. I also dropped my wallet and some money fell out of it. We were picking up the cards; five at a time, and someone must’ve walked past us. I could understand why they would get the impression they did, but really it was all just a coincidence.

PROSECUTOR: But …um, did you…but the Mets were going to come back, and win…

DEFENSE LAWYER: OBJECTION! Your honor, we’ve already discussed the fact that Davey Johnson has no testicles. This is preposterous!

JUDGE: Sustained. Calm down now. Your witness, defense.

DEFENSE LAWYER: So, it’s safe to say you’ve had some scuffles here and there in your career, right Mr. Bonilla? Did you ever have a disagreement with Rickey Henderson?

BONILLA: No. Never had a problem.

DEFENSE LAWYER: No further questions.

Trial Day 14

PROSECUTOR: I’d like to call Rickey Henderson to the stand your honor.

JUDGE: He’s already there, Prosecutor.

PROSECUTOR: Oh. Let’s begin then shall we? Mr. Henderson, I’ll get right to the point. Isn’t it true that you were merely an above average player on substandard teams for most of your career, and that your real claim to fame, or infamy, was your flashy style and hot dog attitude?

HENDERSON: Well, I was voted to the All-Star team eleven times between 1980 and 1992. I’ve won an MVP, a Gold Glove, an ALCS MVP, and I have two World Series rings. I hold two all-time career records, for runs and stolen bases, and a few single season records as well…

PROSECUTOR: Ha! Only two?

HENDERSON: Well, four, if you count my leadoff home run record and caught stealing record.

PROSECUTOR: But there are some who say your Hall of Fame-range numbers are only due to your longevity.

HENDERSON: So I’ve got longevity, so what? I play because I love the game. In 2003 I played for the Red Sox for $350,000, probably less than you make in a year. I’ll have the game for as long as it’ll have me. I keep going until I’m totally done. You won’t see me pulling a Ryne Sandberg or Jim Palmer.

PROSECUTOR: I see. So you just lingered…hanging on to baseball simply to get those landmark numbers!

DEFENSE LAWYER: Objection your honor! The Prosecutor knows that many “landmark” stats are arbitrary—they can depend on position, placement in lineup, league, and any other number of factors. Any major stats Mr. Henderson holds he’s had under his belt for quite some time, and he’d still have that walks record if the National League wasn’t scared shitless of Bonds.

PROSECUTOR: I retract the question! Your numbers are not on trial here, Mr. Henderson, instead, why don’t you explain to the jury your snatch catch?

HENDERSON: A batter pops up, I snatch the ball out of the air, whipping my glove onto it in a quick fashion.

PROSECUTOR: And isn’t true you only do this because it looks really, really cool?


(Jury gasps)

PROSECUTOR: There you have it, folks. The cool looking snatch catch. You’re a showboat, Mr. Henderson, just admit it! A hot dog! A center-stage grabbing performer in cleats! I rest my case!

Trial day 21

JUDGE: The Prosecution has rested his case; the jury awaits your closing statement, Defense.

DEFENSE LAWYER: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury… Think for a second, not about awe-inspiring baseball stadiums, nor the highlight reel, nor “I am the greatest.” Think instead about your own neighborhood. Think about the sandlots and the parks and backyards strewn with kids playing ball. How many times have you watched a kid, maybe even your own kid, get a pop fly with a snatch grab? How many times have you seen a kid dangle his fingers as he leads off first base? How many times have you seen a little leaguer get a base on balls, and rather than be disappointed or embarrassed, clap his hands, knowing that he’s helping his team win a game? These are the things that Mr. Henderson is responsible for. The man is not monster by any means. His individual accomplishments have always come a far, far second to his desire to win. He is an aggressive, determined, professional athlete—and what’s more, he’s done more to help the game than he’ll ever get credit for. He’s combined the intensity of competition with the fun of the game. He’s helped fans become part of the game, and not just by talking to kids while in the outfield. He’s been a man of character, with character. We might want to dismiss it as “flash,” but the fact remains he has the substance to back it up. His style of play is what we all envy while younger generations look up to him with high admiration. It’s obvious Mr. Henderson is only a boon to the institution of baseball; I only hope that you can rise above his prosecutor’s insufficient and petty criticism, and find him innocent of all charges.

Mark Hughson currently resides in Syracuse, NY with his wife and cat. After a seven-year stint as a zine writer and contributor, community radio DJ, 4-track enthusiast, and all around advocate of the independent arts, Mark took some time off to reflect on his goals in life and to get back in touch with nature. His new zine and lo-fi acoustic bedroom pop album will be out next week.

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