The baseball world lost a memorable talent on December 27. As David R. McCullough tells us, Dave Henderson left Boston Red Sox fans with something to remember during his brief stint with the team.
The most important moments in life carve indelible memories into your psyche like a piece of woodcut art, with each detail painstakingly recreated and lovingly rendered. One of the reliefs forever imprinted in my head is Dave Henderson’s Game 5 home run in the 1986 ALCS. I remember it because of how soul-crushingly sad I was just before that moment. The Red Sox were about to fulfill the prophecy of my forebears and lose, as they always had and always would, forever perpetuating the mythical ‘Curse of the Bambino.’
Grandpa Ed had left the room a few minutes earlier while muttering expletives and smacking a rolled-up copy of the Boston Herald into his left palm, telling me “you can watch ‘em lose if you want to, kid.” The room, which hours earlier had been filled with family and friends, had emptied down to just myself and my youthful hope. Empty red plastic drink cups covered the tables, along with mostly-empty paper plates marred by smears of ketchup and the occasional lingering bite of a hot dog bun. Ashtrays were filled to the brim, a thin wisp of smoke trailed upward from a last still-smoldering cigarette into the yellow light of the table lamp.
I tried to summon everyone back when Don Baylor trimmed the deficit to one run, but all of them had seen this play before. “Just wait. They’re gonna lose,” said Uncle Ed (our family had a fair share of Eds) as he made his way down the hall toward the bathroom. “They’re just gonna break your heart.”
But Uncle Ed and Grandpa Ed, and prophecy, were wrong on that day. Dave Henderson’s magical, improbable home run off Donnie Moore brought the Red Sox back from the brink of elimination and sparked a run to the World Series. Going into that at-bat, Henderson was primed to be the goat, having had a fly ball bounce off his glove and over the fence earlier in the game for a home run. Instead, with one magnificent swing of the bat, he erased that mishap and made himself the favorite player of a ten-year old fan who hadn’t yet been fully indoctrinated into the Fellowship of the Miserable.
Despite his ‘86 heroics, I’ve found Henderson is a rare favorite for a Sox fan to choose. The man they called Hendu had only just arrived in Boston via a late-season trade, getting a paltry 54 plate appearances down the stretch, hitting .196/.226./.324 with only one homer. And Henderson’s magical postseason in 1986 wasn’t enough to propel the Red Sox to a World Series title, so he missed out on becoming an enduring local icon like David Ortiz. He moved on to the San Francisco Giants in 1987, and then to Oakland A’s, where he was part of a couple World Series winners while eliminating the Red Sox from the playoffs along the way.
Henderson stayed in baseball after he retired, earning roles as a coach, instructor, and broadcaster. Hendu was a perpetually upbeat, always-smiling people who others loved to be around. As a baseball player, Henderson was average; as a teammate and chemistry guy, he was a Hall of Famer. Countless obituaries will recount the stories of Henderson’s generosity and ability to light up a room with his smile.
For this fan, the passing of Dave Henderson is a reminder of that wonderful day where I truly became a Red Sox fan. Where Hendu’s homer brought us back from the brink to give us one more day of magical, playoff baseball. Where the man wearing #40 had every member of my family – most still with us, some sadly not – rushing back into the living room to find out why 10-year old David was screaming and cheering like a madman.
I’ll never forget how I felt in that moment – exhilarated, astonished, alive. Hugging and high-fiving and deliriously screeching at the top of my lungs – we won!
Unadulterated joy is a rare thing, and for as long as I live, I’ll be thankful for the moment I held fast and stayed glued to the television. Rest in peace, Dave Henderson.