#104) Remembering Hendu

Why couldn’t he have just struck out?

On October 12th, 1986 in Anaheim, Dave Henderson was batting with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, 2-2 count, one runner on base, the Red Sox trailing the Angels, 5-4. It was the fifth game of the American League Championship Series with the Angels leading the best-of-seven set, three games to one. All Henderson had to do was swing at Donnie Moore’s next pitch and miss it, or perhaps tap a grounder to third baseman Doug DeCinces or shortstop Dick Schofield for an easy out.

The man responsible for one of baseball’s most famous home runs died from a heart attack yesterday at age 57. Henderson’s home run not only made the 1986 A.L.C.S. historic but it paved the way for an equally famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) 1986 World Series against the New York Mets. In the sixth game, Henderson’s home run gave the Red Sox a short-lived lead in the 10th inning.

As a Red Sox fan and an admitted baseball geek, I can’t help but find the circumstances leading up to and following Henderson’s at-bat against Moore to be fascinating. Henderson, who had arrived in a quiet mid-season trade with Seattle, was a replacement in Game 5 for veteran Tony Armas, who’d been injured. With the Red Sox leading 2-1, Henderson tipped a Bobby Grich fly ball over the fence for a home run, appearing to be the latest victim of the “Curse of the Bambino.” In the ninth inning, Henderson came to the plate with a chance to redeem himself–Boston’s last chance.

Sadly, for Angels pitcher Donnie Moore, the loss proved to be the beginning of the end of his career. Worse still, Moore battled alcoholism and depression and following his release from baseball in 1989, shot his wife before turning the gun on himself. Unfortunately for Boston, the victory would merely prove the adage that if the Red Sox win today, that’s because it will hurt more for them to lose tomorrow. Boston scapegoat Bill Buckner would endure years of ridicule and harassment by fans,  causing him and his family to move to Idaho.

All that trouble because Henderson didn’t strike out.

But it’s another example of how America’s Pastime can teach us–even those who don’t care about the game. We’ve all had our backs to the wall, perhaps burdened as Hendu was by the memory of a recent mistake, surrounded by people just waiting for us to fail. No, the act of swinging at a ball and hitting it out of a stadium doesn’t change humanity, but it did galvanize a city and still inspires memories almost thirty years later.

Henderson would continue his post season success in Oakland, leading the Athletics to three consecutive World Series appearances, including a championship in 1989, before retiring in 1994. He later became a color commentator for the Seattle Mariners and continued to make his home in the Seattle area until his death.

While Henderson is most famous for his post season heroics, he’s also remembered as a positive team player who enjoyed interacting with the fans. Former Oakland teammate Terry Steinbach said, “People talk about all the big hits and the World Series, but to me, it was that great attitude he brought every day. He would instantly pick you up, put you in the right frame of mind, get you going.” Rich Gedman, the Boston catcher who was on base when Henderson hit the homer off Moore, said, “Go back and look at every picture of him. He always had a smile on his face.”

 

 

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