Dave Henderson, who played the outfield for the Mariners, Red Sox and Athletics during the 1980s and early 1990s, died Sunday at 57 from a heart attack.
Henderson figured prominently in another of the many childhood memories of sports I can readily recall.
Earlier this morning, I described an NFL game I watched at my maternal grandmother’s house many moons ago.
Now, I hearken back to a memorable baseball game I watched in the same house almost two years later.
The date was October 12, 1986. One day before my 10th birthday. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev were holding a summit in Iceland. Miami and Penn State were headed for an epic college football showdown at the end of the season. Wayne Gretzky still played hockey in Edmonton, and Bird and Magic still dominated the NBA.
That Sunday, the California Angels were within one victory of advancing to the World Series for the first time since it began play in 1961. The Angels, led by manager Gene Mauch and several stars past their prime, including Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich, Bob Boone, Doug DeCinces and Brian Downing, led the Boston Red Sox, powered by 24-game winner Roger Clemens, 3 games to 1, in the American League Championship Series.
All it would take is a victory at Anaheim Stadium, which the Angels shared with the Rams by that time, to move into the Fall Classic against either Houston or the New York Mets.
When the 1986 season opened, the Red Sox were deeply entrenched under the Curse of the Bambino, which took effect in 1920 when then-Boston owner Harry Frazee traded Babe Ruth, his star pitcher, to the Yankees. The rest is history.
Boston won the American League East in 1986, its first division title since 1975. Clemens, only three years removed from helping the Texas Longhorns win the College World Series, enjoyed what would be the best year of his lengthy career, going 24-4 with a 1.53 earned run average.
His signature game came on April 29 of that season when he struck out 20 Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park. The Mariners’ starting center fielder that night, Dave Henderson, was strikeout victim No. 6, No. 13 and No. 18 against The Rocket.
Later that season, Henderson and the Mariners’ starting shortstop that cold night in Boston, Spike Owen, a teammate of Clemens with the 1983 Longhorns, were traded to the Red Sox.
Owen immediately stabilized a position which had been a weakness for Boston since Rick Burleson departed for the Angels. Henderson provided the Red Sox with much better defense in center field than Tony Armas, a man who was a born designated hitter long before anyone in Red Sox Nation could have dreamed of David Ortiz. Armas hit 43 home runs in 1984, but struck out way too much and was awful in the field. Boston was very fortunate right fielder Dwight Evans was one of baseball’s best defensive outfielders and thus tracked down numerous balls Armas missed.
Dave Henderson lived several lifetimes the afternoon of October 12, 1986.
With Boston ahead 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth, Bobby Grich, who won Game 4 the previous night with an RBI single in the 11th, hit a long fly ball to center field. Henderson leaped at the wall in an attempt to deny Grich a home run, but instead, the ball hit off of the top of the webbing of Henderson’s glove and fell over the fence.
Home run. Angels 3, Red Sox 2. The Big A was in delirium.
One inning later, Rob Wilfong singled home two more runs, and the Red Sox were in dire straits, trailing 5-2 with only six outs standing between them and the end of the 1986 season.
Nobody scored in the eight. Angels starter Mike Witt, who pitched a perfect game on the final day of the 1984 season at Texas and pitched a complete game victory in Game 1 of the 1986 ALCS at Boston, got one out in the ninth, but also gave up a two-run home run to Don Baylor, whom, ironically, was the AL’s Most Valuable Player in 1979, when he led the Angels to their first AL West championship.
Angels manager Gene Mauch lifted Witt in favor of left-handed reliever Gary Lucas, who would face Boston’s left-handed hitting catcher, Rich Gedman. Gedman was 3-for-3 on the day, but had a bad history vs. Lucas. Lucas hit Gedman, and Mauch immediately called for closer Donnie Moore.
Moore retired Evans on a popup, bringing Henderson to the plate. The Angel hurler got ahead in the count 1-2, but Henderson fought off the next three pitches to stay alive.
On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Moore threw a fastball low and in. Henderson swung.
The ball skied to left field. Downing tracked the ball, but when he reached the wall, all he could do is look up in disgust and then slam his glove into the fence.
Home run Henderson. Red Sox lead 6-5.
The Angels somehow pulled themselves up off the carpet to score once in the bottom of the ninth and tie the game, but in the 11th, Baylor was hit by a pitch, moved to second on an Evans single and third on a Gedman sacrifice.
Henderson came through again vs. Moore, lifting a sacrifice fly to plate Baylor and put Boston back on top.
California went down meekly in the bottom of the 11th. The Angels would soon be on their way to LAX for the cross-country flight they didn’t want to make.
The Angels would have been better off calling in two forfeits.
The Red Sox won Games 6 and 7 10-4 and 8-1. Boston was on to the World Series. The Mets would be the opposition. Most of you know what happened then.
The Angels would not return to the playoffs until 2002, when they won the World Series vs. the Giants. There hasn’t been a World Series game in Anaheim since Game 7 in 2002.
Boston won it two years later vs. the Cardinals, then added titles in 2007 vs. the Rockies–who wouldn’t come into existence until 1995–and the Cardinals again in 2013.
The Mets haven’t won a World Series since 1986, losing to the Yankees in 2000 and the Royals this past season.
Henderson won his World Series ring in 1989 with Oakland, when it swept San Francisco in the series interrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake.
Dave Henderson won’t be in Cooperstown. But for anyone who watched Major League Baseball during the 1980s, Hendu’s roller coaster ride in Anaheim won’t soon be forgotten.