OAKLAND, Calif. - Rickey Henderson put it all together this year while performing in his hometown before fans ``who keep me happy, make me feel like a kid playing again.''
The Oakland Athletics' left fielder and leadoff batter was at his happiest yesterday as winner of the American League Most Valuable Player award. He edged Detroit slugger Cecil Fielder in the voting by members of the Baseball Writers Association.
Henderson received 14 of 28 first-place votes and 317 points. Fielder, the first major leaguer since 1977 to crack the 50-home run mark, had 10 first-place votes and 286 points.
``I haven't been as excited since I broke Lou Brock's (single-season) stolen-base record,'' Henderson said at a news conference, referring to the 1982 season, when he topped Brock's record of 118 steals and finished with 130.
``My next big moment will be when I break Brock's all-time record,'' he said.
That probably will come in the opening week of next season. Henderson's total of 936 steals in 11 1/2 seasons is two short of Brock's record. His 32nd birthday is next month. Brock was 40 years old when he stole his 938th base in 1979.
Henderson, whose career batting average is .293, hit only .267 while running wild on the basepaths in 1982. In 1986, playing with the New York Yankees, he hit a career-high 28 homers but batted just .263. He returned to the A's in a 1989 mid-season trade and helped them win the World Series.
This season, Henderson matched his career-high home run total and had a career-high .325 batting average. He won his 10th stolen base title, with 65, and his slugging average of .577 was second only to Fielder's.
``It's a dream come true. It took a lot of hard work and dedication,'' Henderson said. ``I'm very proud of this award.''
Henderson said he knows how Fielder, who had 51 homers and 132 RBI, feels as runner-up.
``I remember 1981, when (reliever) Rollie Fingers edged me,'' Henderson said. ``I always felt the MVP award should go to an everyday ballplayer.''
Boston's Roger Clemens, the 1986 MVP, had three first-place votes and finished third with 212 points. Oakland reliever Dennis Eckersley had one first-place vote and was the sixth-place finisher, behind infielder Kelly Gruber of Toronto and reliever Bobby Thigpen of Chicago.
Seattle outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. finished in a tie for 19th place in the voting, with seven points. Griffey requested Henderson's uniform number, 24, when Griffey joined the Mariners.
Henderson previously chose No. 24 because it was worn by Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Mays.
``Rickey's the best leadoff man I've ever seen,'' Mays said. ``I've never seen a leadoff man who can do all the things he does so well.''
The award means a $100,000 contract bonus for Henderson, and could bring him a contract improvement before next season begins.
Henderson is the fourth Oakland player to be chosen MVP.