Stealin' and Reelin'


Over the course of 25 Major League seasons, Rickey Henderson stole a record 1,406 bases. Even assuming that he occasionally hit the bag standing up, that means that on well over a thousand occasions, Henderson slid into the bag, sometimes on hard astroturf, sometimes on slightly more forgiving natural grass. Henderson, who liked to refer to himself in the third person and also preferred to slide headfirst, beat his body up en route to the Hall of Fame.

Those thousand-plus slides only tell part of the story, of course. There were also slides when he was caught stealing, not counted in the 1,406.  There were the numerous times he headed back to the base when a nervous pitcher tried to pin him there with a well-timed throw and whether his attempts to steal were aborted, successful or unsuccessful, they were often met with a gloved tag to the face, or a shortstop’s spikes to the groin. That doesn’t include collisions at the plate, diving catches or bench-clearing brawls, either. Even if you hit the genetic lottery of athleticism and take exceptional care of yourself, all of those collisions have to take a toll.

I thought of that sort of incremental breakdown last week when I interviewed Larry Nixon for Inside Line. Downplaying his multiple surgeries and whatever aches and pains must accompany forty-plus years of life on tour, Nixon said: “You’re only out there eight or nine weeks a year. You’ve got 52 to get well. And once you’re there, it’s only for seven days.”

I respect his stoicism, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Nixon has fished 260 B.A.S.S. tournaments and 176 FLW tournaments. Combined with 10 years as a full-time guide, that alone is more hours on the water than most of us will spend in a lifetime. But it’s not just the tournament days – busting through 6 footers on Erie, or across a stump-filled flat on Toledo Bend, then standing one-legged on a trolling motor for 8 hours. There is also the anguish caused by repetitive motion injuries which have caused substantial damage both of Nixon’s original hands. All of this is compounded by long drives, minimal sleep, and crappy hotel beds.

Granted, Nixon’s chosen sport may not require the same caliber of body sacrifice as Henderson’s, but he’s done it for even longer than the exceptionally durable Rickey could manage, starting before Henderson ascended to the majors and continuing for over a decade (and counting) past the “Man of Steal’s” retirement.

And Rickey got to sit in the dugout, sometimes for long periods of time when he DHed.

He also got rain delays and chartered jets.

I’m not necessarily equating the two, except insofar as to say that when your favorite angler has injuries, just like your favorite Major Leaguer or NFL star, a lot of times, it’s the hits you don’t remember that really caused them.

Just don’t expect Larry Nixon to refer to himself in the third person, whether he's describing his next surgery or his next tournament win.