July 27, 2009, - 2:21 pm

Rickey Henderson’s Ebonics Baseball Hall of Fame Speech

By Debbie Schlussel

So, yesterday, former Major League Baseball star Rickey Henderson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  But it’s very sad. Dude can’t speak English. What’s up with that? And, unlike the many foreigners in Major League Baseball, he was born here. It was a nice, classy speech, but in the wrong language . . . or something.

You’d think that a guy who excelled on the baseball field and did so many interviews–one who was born in America–could speak English.  I mean even the Japanese and Hispanic guys we recruit from other nations to play in Major League Baseball can speak our language better than this guy.

Highlights from his speech:

*  He turns plural into singular.  He thanks his “daughter” (all three of them) and says, “I also want to thanks the member” of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  He practiced (“prac-sed”) his baseball “skill.”  He played for the “Oakland A” in front of “my family and friend.”  Many more examples of this during his speech.

*  Chose is now “cho-zed.”  Practiced is “prac-sed.”

*  “Mom Do Knows Best.”

*  My favorite baseball player:  Cal “Ripton,” Jr.

The rest of the speech (which is written out) is more of the same.  It’s sad.  This guy is 50 years old. And he set many records in baseball. But he couldn’t even accomplish the basic, proper English communication skill . . . er, skills. I feel sorry for him.

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39 Responses

I got 38 seconds into his speech. I then had to stop, because I was laughing so hard.

cirrus1701 on July 27, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Rickey don’t need to speak good, Rickey is one of the greatest of all time. Rickey can hit and run. Rickey is so good Rickey made is own language.:)

time wave on July 27, 2009 at 2:59 pm

come on !!

he even thanked his mother-in-law

my brother in law doesn’t speak english well, and he has an engineering degree.

kirk zelinske on July 27, 2009 at 3:11 pm

He speaks like one of the slaves from the old Roots miniseries. During slavery, blacks weren’t allowed to be educated. There’s no excuse for it now.

tempus_fugit on July 27, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Well, if only Lenny Dykstra could do as well. Those darn white people – why can’t they “talk right”?

I don’t think Rickey Henderson has lost a bunch of money for the investors silly enough to invest with someone who care barely “talk English”.

Nice racist post though Deb. Keep up the good work!

dw on July 27, 2009 at 3:22 pm

C’mon Deb, cut the guy some slack. Rickey was “the best there is, the best there was and the best there will ever be” when it comes to a leadoff man. Watching Rickey play ball was one of the memories as a teen and young adult watching the Oakland Athletics dominate the West Division for years. Then he played for Toronto and dominated there as well. He broke an all time record at the age of 32. Most all time records are broken at 40+. One thing I liked about Rickey is he loved to play the game. He ultimately played his last game with a minor league team. He played until he couldn’t play no more. That is awesome!! Other athletes will play just for a paycheck and that is it. Screw the pundits who wanted to push him out. Most pundits couldn’t push a donut away. One thing former athlethes will never say to another athlete is to quit. Only fat ass sports reporters who never had it or never will have it will criticize a guy like Rickey.

As for his speaking, I will give him a pass. He was born with humble beginnings and played like no other has. Hey I know a guy who makes great speeches and can bring people to their feet and he is the alleged President. However I will listen to Rickey speak anytime over the alleged President.

CaliforniaScreaming on July 27, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Ricky Henderson’s speech is so well known to be constantly humorous that David Gross had a skit involving “talking to Ricky Henderson” long before he made the HOF. Gross is not a racist.

    Occam's Tool on June 29, 2011 at 11:53 am

“Beisbol been bery, bery good to me!”

dm60462 on July 27, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Nice reference – vintage SNL! I say that line all the time and most people don’t get it.

    TR060185 on January 26, 2011 at 11:11 pm

I heard the speech and agree with debbie….there is no excuse for not speaking the English language well. Bad English is so ende3mic among blacks….to speak well is to be speaking white. If they could only hear themselves….how stupid and backward they sound, but getting an education is secondary to playing sports. Debbie you missed an ebonic phrase…to get “a autograph”.

Chuck on July 27, 2009 at 3:51 pm

This would be even funnier except that a community college professor and his speech class helped Rickey write this and work on his presentation.


Oh, I forgot, this is Oakland and Ebonics is the official language.

Kalifornia Kafir on July 27, 2009 at 4:13 pm

It is sad. This like a very bad episode of The Jeffersons.

sorrow01 on July 27, 2009 at 9:20 pm

50 years old and sounds like this? No excuses.

Squirrel3D on July 27, 2009 at 9:21 pm

This is mean-spirited, Debbie. It’s clever, funny and appropriate when you pick on bad people. Not so here. Ricky’s a decent guy giving thanks to many others. Irrespective of place of birth, people- especially those growing up poor- often speak in the dialects and non-standard English of their ethnic groups.

Pat on July 27, 2009 at 10:37 pm

This is why America can’t move forward. It’s all reflection of your past grave racist history – own up to it. If their own original tribal langauge wasn’t taken away from them by force,(colonization) perhaps he would have this so called problem? If you Americans had won the war of 1812, the French in Quebec would be speaking English today. We preserved their language with Bill 101 back in the day. What has America done? All men created equal – don’t think so… And by the way Debbie, you recent got your tribal language back with modern Hebrew after 1948(Israel) did you not? It’s interesting how the pot (that almost got the oven) can call the kettle black…

Toronto on July 27, 2009 at 10:41 pm

I’ve been an A’s fan since the late 60s. I’m going to be sitting behind 1st base on Saturday when the A’s retire Rickey’s number. I think Rickey is one of the premier contemporary baseball players and deserves to be in the Hall of Fame (unlike cheats like Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds). But, I can forgive Roberto Clemente and other non-US born players for butchering the language. That a native American like Rickey cannot speak plain, ordinary English is inexcusable… as inexcusable as the way my poor white trash relatives mangle the language. Anyone who spends 12 years in the U.S. education system and graduates should, at the very least, be able to speak the language.

Kalifornia Kafir on July 27, 2009 at 11:04 pm

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Susan on July 27, 2009 at 11:46 pm

I notice a lot of Debbie bashers but nobody is noticing that the man has been out of baseball for a while and even if the moron had a learning disability he could’ve had a tutor help him. I know immigrants that speak better than this idiot.
It isn’t race, it’s intelligence. Three daughters not one, stupid. And what’s with the momma? Bald is only fashionable on men. Yuuuuck!

I couldn’t watch more than one minute of this village idiot. We’re supposed to give points because he’s not a felon? Yeah o.k.

Joe on July 28, 2009 at 1:46 am

“It isn’t race, it’s intelligence.”

How about neither? Language comes so naturally to humans that people don’t often realize how much of a mental feat it is to to form and parse what we consider even the most basic sentences, and that ability to acquire new grammatical forms later in life (or entire languages) is independent of that.

Basically, any time after puberty everyone’s brain becomes much less elastic when it comes to language learning (this is why foreign kids who are about 10 and younger can usually learn English without a noticeable foreign accent, but older kids will always have their accent, no matter how fluent they become in English).

If he did grow up in an isolated community with a strong dialect, the fact that he can’t speak standard American English now doesn’t mean that his core language-learning facilities are lacking. It’d be like if you moved to Jamaica and tried picking up the dialect and accent there. Maybe you’d be good at it and maybe not, but no one would call you stupid if you couldn’t.

If you’d like to read something about the topic, try The Language Instinct by Pinker. It’s a pretty comprehensive book about how humans learn and use language (for something aimed at a non-academic audience).

Libertarian Bulbasaur on July 28, 2009 at 2:27 am

While his grammar leaves a lot to be desired, judge him by the content of his talk. I thought it was heart-warming and sweet. He loves his wife and daughters and said it out loud. Give him a break.

GABuckeye on July 28, 2009 at 9:38 am

He is the master of his own destiny. Just as he stole more bases, hit more baseballs, and generally made life tough for opposing pitchers, he is judged by everything he does. A grown man with his language skills is something to be ashamed of, period.

What makes him pathetic is his own complacency at staying at the level of stupidity he’s at. Immigrants to this country have made it their priority to speak well enough to be understood and attain gainful employment. He made his money and that was good enough for him. It’s up to him to better himself. He’s retired and has the time and money to get the best private instruction. He doesn’t. It ain’t race.

Joe on July 28, 2009 at 9:47 am

Look at Mike Tyson if you don’t think being smart has something to do with keeping your money and staying out of trouble, financially. Don King stole more from him than the IRS!

Joe on July 28, 2009 at 11:05 am

Joe said, “He made his money and that was good enough for him. It’s up to him to better himself. He’s retired and has the time and money to get the best private instruction. He doesn’t. It ain’t race.”

Joe I think Rickey feels comfortable about himself and with the money he made can say KISS MY A**. He doesn’t need to be lectured by anyone to make it in America. He fulfilled his American Dream. If his circumstances were different and he needed a job and his language was a barrier then I would say you have a point.

For Rickey he has a loving wife and beautiful daughters and if they feel good about him, then does it really Fu**ing matter what anyone thinks about how he speaks.

CaliforniaScreaming on July 28, 2009 at 12:12 pm

After only reading Debbie’s comments, my opinion is he is functionally illerate. Which is sad commentary for our school systems. Perhaps if he had just spoken his thoughts, rather than reading, he would have done much better. Obviously, reading is not an important part of his life.

PatAZ on July 28, 2009 at 2:10 pm

At least people could understand what he was trying to communicate. Which is more than you can say for Palin’s farewell speech, or any one of the many Bushisms that issued from the lips of our former president over the past eight years.

Zak44 on July 28, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Anyone that is ripping on Rickey is a sad pathetic waste of a human being that would be better off burning in a furnace then wasting resources living. Get over it, guy did what he wanted and did it better then anyone else ever.

Right, left, or whatever this is just a weak cheap shot, shameful. If you can sleep at night making comments like this may God have mercy on your soul because most won’t give you the chance he might.

Sam on July 28, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Yes, he was a bit hard to listen too, but the man has definitely got some great looking daughters! Those girls are going to break some hearts…

JibberJabber on July 28, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Pathetic. Yes, let’s indict the man for illiteracy, for mental retardation, for being an all-around jerk for not being eloquent in his acceptance speech. Let’s indict the public school system, the city of Oakland, and the entirety of African-Americans based on one man’s verbal blunders.

And let’s base all of these judgments on a single speech he read, while clearly very nervous, in front of an audience of more than 20K.

Debbie, if you had bothered to hear him speak in any other venue (you can start by watching any number of one-on-one interviews with him), you’d see that his English is fine. But no, you go ahead and “feel sorry” for him.

nickolai on July 28, 2009 at 6:58 pm

Thanks for posting the videos – I missed Rickey’s induction speech.

Rickey speaks very well, especially on the baseball diamond. I grew up watching Rickey in his prime and no one could electrify a crowd like he could! One of THE greatest players ever!

Let’s praise the man for his accomplishments, not damn him for any perceived shortcomings.

Long before Manny was being Manny – Rickey be Rickey!

daOldGuy on July 28, 2009 at 10:11 pm

jesus, what a focking retard! I couldn’t understand a single word he said! I mean, if you’re going to speak in front of thousands of people and television cameras, you should at least have the common sense to practice ( i mean “praxticse”).

Seriously,how many more multi-millionaire, legendarily-athletic illiterates do our public schools need to produce before we all realize that THE SYSTEM IS NOT WORKING.

either we need to fault him for his lack of focus on academics or the God-given limitations of his biological and intellectual developments. Either way, Rickey is a total loser.

chattanooga on July 29, 2009 at 12:22 am

    We mock what we want to be…

    KoolJ on August 1, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Yeah, it don’t mayter how he tawk. He be rich so’s that be all dat matters. The coke he stuffed up his nose was obviously the actions of a loving father and husband.

Funny how black racists can’t give up bashing on Bush and Palin!!! Ricky can be your broke down ass coke head hero till the end of time, I laugh at you. Keep worshipping those corrupt idiots instead of looking for more worthy idols. See you in the cheese line.lol

Joe on July 29, 2009 at 12:42 am

So many racists, so little time …

Gerald on July 29, 2009 at 9:46 am

Yeah, growing up in the 60s, right around the time of desegregation, of course Rickey should speak like he had the chance to attend Eton! Come on now. You are, unfortunately, taking things out of context.

Also, Rickey apparently knew that people like you would criticize, so he tried hard to perfect his speech:



“You’d think that a guy who excelled on the baseball field and did so many interviews–one who was born in America–could speak English.”

You’d think that someone who criticizes another person’s speech could write using proper English grammar.

KG on July 29, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Hmm…in the future you should attempt to camouflage your racism in a more cleverly contrived commentary. This has been the first and will be the last time I read one of your postings. Please try to look deep into your own heart and figure out why you want to project this kind of hatred onto another human being. I wish you the best of luck if you do endeavour to become a wise and caring person…and if that’s not your goal, well there are 6 billion other humans that deserve my time more than you.

CB: Speaking English correctly with a modicum of proper grammar and pronunciation is not about race. It’s about the will to do so. And it’s about culture. Are you saying that all Black people speak this way? I’m not. I think we all know that isn’t the case. But we also know that, sadly, in Black culture in America, speaking proper English is frowned upon. And that’s the tragedy. DS

Charles B on July 29, 2009 at 2:02 pm

This has got to be the nastiest, meanest thing you’ve written this year I can understand Rickey perfectly well. Really Debbie you need to get off this fixation you have with black people.

dymphna on July 29, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Debbie, a group of little Black kids had the recent misfortune to bump into A1. I did my absoulte best to be helpful and kind, but I had a hell of a time understanding them, and I went to integrated public schools. These kids are the victims of language abuse. They’re basically too far gone by the time they’re in grade school.

A1 on July 29, 2009 at 10:27 pm

I live in the deep south and know white folk that don’t speak this good, and I’m talking some just out of school. Oh yeah before I forget; Wasn’t our last president such a good speaker ? And too think he graduated college. Go figure….

Ed on July 30, 2009 at 1:15 am

Debbie Schlussel:

“But we also know that, sadly, in Black culture in America, speaking proper English is frowned upon. And that’s the tragedy.”

Since when did you get to be James McWhorter, who is a product of the black inner city and a trained linguist and scholar and is actually qualified to make statements like these?

Look, it is not a race issue. It is a class and culture issue. You can go to plenty of places in white America where there is generational poverty and cultural isolation and they are unintelligble. Try Appalachia for instance. Not picking on those folks, I am just saying. But there are (or at least were) white people in relatively isolated and very poor northern urban areas like Chicago, New York, Boston etc. whose English was horrible.

Even better: go to the poorer areas of England, Ireland, or Australia. I defy any of you to understand 5 words out of what those people are saying out of 100. Other English, Irish and British can’t even understand them.

Also, what larger context is there for one man’s speech problems? Especially when lots of people have over the years theorized that Henderson has an undiagnosed and untreated learning disability? And if this is the case, why was it undiagnosed and untreated? Well, I don’t know, MAYBE because the guy was born dirt poor in SEGREGATED Chicago in the 1950s!

Now while Henderson is in the Hall of Fame TODAY, during his career he was one of the most hated athletes in baseball. Why? Because they resented the fact that he was breaking so many records held by so many of the icons of the sport like Lou Brock and Ty Cobb. They used to call the guy every racist name (and every racial code word) in the book, and had the equivalent of talk radio and blogging existed back then, it would have been much much worse. So he was supposed to go learn the king’s English so he could have put up better appearance in front of the same people that were calling him “monkey” and “animal” in the stands and “lazy” (and other code words) in the mainstream press? The “Rickey Henderson is so lazy, doesn’t work hard, and relies on his ability” nonsense became so embedded in the public imagination and it dogged him throughout his career. Finally Rickey Henderson supporters challenged the media critics to explain what made him so lazy, so they came up with this “he only plays hard when he is in a contract year or when he is playing for a winning team” foolishness. Then they analyzed its stats and it was a lie.

Henderson put up with more hateful nonsense from “fans” and the media than did a guy who quit on his team and for YEARS didn’t do squat WHILE DRAWING A VERY LARGE SALARY and was later discovered to have been using steroids like Roger Clemens. So, Rickey Henderson could care less about what you or the obvious overt racists who regularly comment on your blog think, and for that I am glad.

GB: Have you read any of James McWhorter’s books? He agrees with me. DS

Gerald Ball on July 30, 2009 at 10:54 am

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