Thursday, 31 December 2015


I was saddened immensely to learn that Dave Henderson had died aged 57, of a heart attack suffered while recovering from a kidney transplant. A heart attack seemed impossible: no one had a bigger heart than Hendu. I can't remember a Red Sox player who seemed to enjoy playing more; like a Fenway Park version of Wrigley's Ernie Banks. He never seemed to feel pressure, and it gave him an ability in the clutch that made him, briefly, the toast of Boston. But there was a dark side to Hendu's zenith, and the pitcher who surrendered Henderson's most famous hit never recovered from the loss.

It was October 12, 1986. The Red Sox were in Anaheim, down three games to one to the Angels in the best of seven American League Championship Series.  It was the top of the ninth inning,  and the Sox trailed 5-2. They'd led 2-1, but in the sixth inning Dave Henderson had played a long fly to the wall off his glove and over the fence for a home run, putting Anaheim in the lead. Henderson hadn't played much all season, batted only 54 times and hit a pathetic .196, but Tony Armas was out with an injured ankle, and I was thinking how much we'd regret that. California added two insurance runs in the seventh. Angels' starter Mike Witt had held Boston in check and was headed for his second complete-game win of the series; the Angels were three outs away from the World Series. But Bill Buckner led off the ninth with a single, and Dave Stapleton ran for him. Jim Rice struck out. Then Don Baylor, the former Angel, smacked Witt downtown for a home run, making it 5-4. Witt got Dewey Evans to pop up for the second out, but one out away from the win manager Gene Mauch pulled him. Rich Gedman, a lefty, was coming up and was 3 for 3, so Gary Lucas, a lefty came in, and promptly hit Gedman with his first pitch, putting the tying run on first. Mauch yanked Lucas, and brought in his closer, Donnie Moore, to face Henderson. His costly mistake in the field was the furthest thing from his mind, even though Moore seemed to be toying with him. Then, with the count 2-2, Henderson stretched for a high pitch and drove it over the fence for a home run. The Sox led 5-4.

Bob Stanley gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth, so the game went to extra innings, and the Red Sox won it in the 11th with a sacrifice fly by Henderson after Moore had loaded the bases. Calvin Schiraldi closed out the Angels in the bottom of the 11th, and the Sox headed back to Boston where they won games six and seven easily, and advanced to play the Mets in the World Series, a team with 108 wins, and like the Reds in 1976 and Cardinals in 1967, the Sox opponents in those ill-fated World Series, arguably the best National League team of the decade.

You all know how that went. How in Game Six, October 25th at Shea,the Sox stood one out away from their first World Series win since 1918, when Schiraldi, the former Met, couldn't close the game out, and Stanley came in, threw a wild pitch past Gedman, and a ground ball then went through Buckner's legs, since John McNamara had neglected for sentimental reasons to send Stapleton in for Buckner.  The Sox went on to lose in ten innings, and lost game seven after leading 3-0; their third consecutive decade with a classic seven game world series loss. Hendu hit .400 in the series, with two home runs and seven rbis in 25 at bats.

The Sox traded him to the Giants late in the 1987 season. In 1988 he signed with Oakland and had a string of good seasons, including an excellent run from 88 to '91, when he was an All-Star. He won a World Series with Oakland in 1989, no one could have deserved his ring more.

But by then, Donnie Moore was gone. The once-feared closer had been shaken by Henderson's home run, and the loss of game five of the ALCS, and he was never again the same pitcher. He had pitched through injury that October, but the fans didn't care, and they booed Moore for the next two seasons. He was plagued with injuries, and after the 1988 season was released. He signed with Kansas City, but was sent to the minors. In July, after an argument with his wife, he shot her three times. As one of his kids rushed her to a hospital, Moore, in front of another of his children, turned the gun on himself.

Boston didn't win the 1986 World Series, so Henderson remained just a popular footnote to one of baseball's most famous might-have-beens. But the loss never seemed to affect Hendu. There was another season, another game, another day to play ball. For Donnie Moore, the loss was more personal, the failure more immediate, the shadow of it inescapable. I can't think of Hendu and his broad smile without seeing Moore and his tight-lipped visage. I loved Dave Henderson for reminding me that it was, in the end, only a game. A game he had so much fun playing, and made watching him play so much fun as well.

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