Dave Henderson (1958-2015)
One for the ages.
Little-known fact: It was his only hit of the series.
How light on his feet he was, almost like a dancer. He even does a mid-air pirouette down the first base line when he sees, finally sees, that the ball is out of the park, and the Boston Red Sox, down 3 games to 1 in the 1986 American League Championship Series vs. the California Angels, and behind 5-4 in the top of the ninth inning in Game 5, with two outs, two strikes, and a man on, were back in it. “Unbelievable!” broadcaster Al Michaels shouts. “You’re looking at one for the ages here!”
Truly, though, Hendu’s homerun would’ve been all-but-forgotten if the Angels had just had a little timely hitting of their own. In the bottom of the 9th, they tied it up and loaded the bases with one out. But DeCinces flyball to right wasn’t deep enough; and Grich lined out to the pitcher, sending it into extras, where, in the top of the 11th, Hendu came up again, this time with the bases loaded, and did what DeCinces didn’t: he hit the sac fly. That won it. The series took two more games, and Hendu started these instead of Tony Armas, who had started games 1-5, but he never managed another hit. It was, statistically, his worst post-season performance: 1 for 9; a .111 batting average. But he hit the one for the ages.
One strike away was such a theme in the ’86 postseason that it became the title of a book about the ’86 postseason, and about how those pitches to Henderson, and before him Don Baylor, wrecked Angels’ reliever Donnie Moore, who became abusive toward his wife, and then took his own life three years later, July 18, 1989, aged 35. The Red Sox, who only got to the World Series because of Hendu, were themselves one strike away from winning it all in Game 6, after Hendu led off the top of the 10th with a homer. Imagine if Schiraldi, or Stanley, had gotten that one strike, how much of a hero Hendu would’ve been forever after in Boston. Instead, he became a kind of postive, gap-toothed, lighter-than-air reminder of the agony of defeat. There was a through line from him to Bill Buckner—just as, for some Seattle fans, Marshawn Lynch is a reminder of the one time we didn’t hand off to him.
For the next few years, Hendu kept making it back to the World Series, and performing well. His regular-season career line is average: .258/.320/.436. His World Series line is exemplary: 324/.410/.606, with 4 homers and 10 RBIs in 20 games. He helped the A’s beat Boston in the ’88 ALCS, then watched from centerfield, as, again, one strike away, the Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson hit an even more famous homerun in Game 1 of the World Series that turned it all around. Hendu got his ring a year later in the earthquake series, but played his last game in July 1994 with the Kansas City Royals.
He died Sunday of a heart attack at the age of 57—way too early for such a happy warrior.
Longtime Mariners broadcast partner Rick Rizzs has a nice remembrance here:
He had that big body to hold that big heart, and it gave out way too early. ... Hendu was one of the nicest, most compassionate people you'd ever want to meet. He was a tremendous athlete and incredible baseball player, but he was 100 times more than that as a person because he was so giving. He cared about everybody.