Dave Henderson, who starred in the Red Sox dramatic Game Five victory over the California Angels in the 1986 American League Championship Series, died on December 27, 2015, in Seattle, WA. Henderson died of massive heart failure one month after he received a kidney transplant. He was only age 57—much too young.
Dave “Hendu” Henderson played for the Red Sox for only parts of two seasons. But he remains one of the best-remembered and most-beloved former Boston Red Sox players. And the Red Sox dramatic win over the Angels in Game Five in 1986, is remembered as one the great triumphs in team history.
Ironically, Dave Henderson came very close to not playing in that game at all. Tony Armas was the Red Sox starting centerfielder that day and Henderson didn’t expect to get off the bench. “The night before Doug Corbett hit me with a pitch and it tore some cartilage in my right knee,” Henderson told me in an interview four years ago. “Our trainers looked at my knee after the game and told me I couldn’t play any more, that I was done for the Series.
“When I got to the park that Sunday, I just put on my uniform and prepared to watch the game. I didn’t take batting practice, and in fact I didn’t put on all of my equipment including my athletic supporter. I thought my season was over.”
When Tony Armas sprained his ankle early in the game, Henderson went from spectator to participant in a hurry. “When Tony sprained his ankle, I was stunned,” Henderson said, laughing at the memory. “Mac [Red Sox manager John McNamara] asked me if I could play. Of course I said ‘Yes.’ I’m a player, so I play. But I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
LOST IT, WON IT, AND WON IT AGAIN!
The California Angels had taken a commanding three games-to-one advantage into Game Five, which was played in Anaheim Stadium. The Red Sox and the Angels had split the first two games at Fenway Park, but the Angels managed 5-3 and 4-3 victories in the first two games in Anaheim, California. A crowd of 64,223 fans was on hand, hoping to see the Angels qualify for their first World Series trip in the team’s 25-year history.
How dramatic was Game Five of the 1986 American League Championship Series? In 2004 ESPN included it in their top 100 sports moments of the preceding 25 years. Legendary sports columnist Jim Murray wrote of Game Five, “It was the most exciting ninth inning that I ever saw.” And Dave Henderson was a central figure in almost every critical play.
In a matter of two hours Dave Henderson had more highs and lows than the typical baseball regular has in a seven game playoff series. In the sixth inning, Dave became a candidate for “goat of the series.” After a long run, and a seemingly spectacular catch on a drive to the centerfield wall by the Angels Bobby Grich, the ball popped out of his glove and over the centerfield wall to give California a 3-2 lead.
Then in the ninth inning, with the Red Sox trailing 5-4, Henderson became the apparent Series hero with a two-run homer to give the Red Sox a 6-5 lead. After the Angels had tied the game 6-6 in the last of ninth to force the game into extra innings, Hendu came through once again with a sacrifice fly in the eleventh inning. His RBI provided the margin of victory in a 7-6 win that ranks with the more dramatic games in Red Sox history.
Most observers felt that regular centerfielder Armas would never have reached Grich’s drive in the sixth inning. Ironically, the ball would probably have fallen in play, and Grich would have been limited to a double. Only Henderson’s speed and athleticism allowed him to get a glove on the ball and it appeared that the ball came loose when he collided with the centerfield wall.
Henderson doesn’t remember the play that way at all. “If you look closely at the play, you will see that I am running with a slight limp from my knee problem while I am pursuing the ball. That limp threw my eyes off the ball and I didn’t grab it cleanly, so I couldn’t hold it. If I wasn’t limping I would have caught that ball,” Henderson insisted.
A review of the video confirms that Henderson was definitely limping while racing for the ball. The replay also shows Henderson hitting the outfield wall with tremendous force. It isn’t clear whether any player would have been able to hold onto the ball in that situation.
But no one disagrees on what happened to Dave Henderson in the ninth inning of Game Five. The Red Sox had begun the inning trailing 5-2, only three outs from postseason elimination. Don Baylor gave Red Sox fans hope when he stroked a two-run home run to bring the Sox within one run. But when Dave Henderson stepped to the plate with Rich Gedman on first base, there were two outs and the Angels had brought on their ace closer Donnie Moore to preserve their victory.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?
Dave Henderson picked up the action for us from the point he stepped into the batters’ box. “I had been mainly a defensive replacement for the Red Sox. I had only been at bat a few times in the previous couple of weeks. When you are in that position you’re just trying to get your bat on the ball, put it in play, and keep your team in the game.
“I was kind of tentative in that at-bat early in the count. But I managed to foul off three of his [Moore’s] fastballs, and I started to get a little more confident. Plus, I had gone deep on Moore in the ninth inning earlier in the season, so I had that to reach back on. They saw that I was timing his fastball, so he threw me a forkball. I leaned out over the plate and drove it to leftfield.”
Al Michaels, one of America’s premier broadcasters, was calling the game on national television for ABC. It wasn’t his most famous play-by-play, but his description of Henderson’s dramatic blow is a good one. “The pitch…Deep to left and Downing goes back. And it’s gone! Unbelievable! You’re looking at one for the ages here. Astonishing! Anaheim Stadium was one strike from turning into fantasyland! And now the Red Sox lead 6-5! The Red Sox get four runs in the ninth on a pair of home runs by Don Baylor and Dave Henderson.” And he went on to add, “Dave Henderson, you’re not in Seattle any more!”
Running down the first base line and realizing that his drive had reached the bleachers in left centerfield, Henderson leaped and executed a 360-degree pirouette in midair. “It was a totally spontaneous act,” Henderson laughed in memory. “A pure expression of joy.” And since he had apparently hit the Red Sox most dramatic game-winning home run since Carlton Fisk’s home run in Game Six of the 1975 World Series, he was entitled to free expression.
But California was not quite done yet. To the dismay of Red Sox fans, the Angels tied the game in the bottom of the ninth inning and the teams headed into extra innings. Naturally it fell to Dave Henderson to drive in the game-winning run. Again.
In the top of the eleventh inning, with the bases loaded and one out, Henderson scorched a line drive into centerfield. The ball was caught, but Don Baylor tagged up and scored easily from third to put the Red Sox up 7-6. Calvin Schiraldi shut out the Angels in the bottom of the eleventh and the Red Sox had their hard-fought victory.
Did Dave Henderson remember the ovation from Red Sox fans when the team returned to Fenway Park for Game Six? “I do, but what I remember best is that there were about 20 fans that sat in the centerfield bleachers and carried on a conversation with me whenever I played out there. They had all signed a ball for me and threw it to me before the game started. That’s what I remember best.”
SEATTLE MARINERS FIRST DRAFT PICK
Dave Henderson was born in Merced, California, on July 21, 1958, and grew up in nearby Dos Palos. Dos Palos is a small town of around 5,000, located about midway between San Jose and Fresno, near the geographic center of California. Dave is one of six children, and his uncle, Joe Henderson, pitched briefly for the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds in the mid-1970s.
Henderson starred on the baseball diamond and the gridiron at Dos Palos High School. He remembers playing high school baseball against Rickey Henderson and Dave Stewart, two future teammates on the Oakland Athletics. “I played against them and then I played with them on Northern California All-Star teams. We became friends and remain friends to this day. It’s pretty amazing that we all ended up on the Athletics together and won a World Championship in 1989.”
But Henderson first earned notoriety as a 6’2’, 200-pound running back for Dos Palos High. He scored four touchdowns in one memorable game and the major colleges recruited him heavily. “I was better at football than baseball in high school. I had ‘football’ speed, and the game came easy for me. I visited a lot of campuses and I came very close to going to college to play football.”
Dave Henderson laughed when he is asked what caused him to choose a baseball career over football. “The Seattle Mariners drafted me in the first round in 1977. That’s when I found out I could make a lot of money signing to play baseball. It was as simple as that!”
Not only was Dave Henderson a first round draft choice of the Mariners in June 1977, he was the first draft choice in the history of the newly-founded Seattle franchise. And his biggest supporter was long-time Red Sox General Manager Lou Gorman. Gorman, who was the assistant General Manager of the Mariners when Henderson was drafted, recalled the young Dave Henderson.
“I recommended Dave as the Mariners first draft choice. I liked him a lot and he was a good choice. And I was delighted when we [the Red Sox] were able to trade for Henderson in 1986. Dave was a talented ballplayer and a good guy.”
Asked if he ever regretted picking baseball over football, Dave Henderson responds with an emphatic, “No.” He goes on to explain. “The other player I got friendly with on our high school baseball All-Star team was Ronnie Lott [former NFL defensive back and member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame.] Rickey [Henderson], Dave [Stewart] and I were all selected in the first round of the baseball draft and signed contracts. Ronnie wasn’t so he went to USC to play football.
“I’ve stayed in touch with Ronnie, he’s a good friend, and we compare injuries all the time. I’ve got a bad knee, but that’s it. Ronnie played fourteen years in the NFL and he’s got one hundred times the injuries I have. Yeah, I made the right decision.”
THE ROAD TO THE BIG LEAGUES
High school basketball super stars, like LeBron James, can potentially go directly into the NBA and have an impact. High school football stars, like Henderson’s pal Ronnie Lott, can go directly to a big-time college program and achieve immediate recognition. High school baseball stars head off to the minor leagues to serve an extended apprenticeship. Dave Henderson expanded on that principle.
“There was no doubt that I had the talent to play baseball,” he recalled. “But it was pretty much raw talent. I had to learn to play the game, to learn the fundamentals. I was a football player learning to play baseball.”
He was eighteen-years-old when he signed his first professional baseball contract with the Seattle Mariners, and he began his career at Bellingham, Washington, in the Northwest league. His career got off to a good start as he hit .315 and tied for the league lead with 16 home runs. His outstanding play earned him Northwest League All-Star status and he was named to the Topps Class A Rookie All-Star team.
In 1978 Dave played at Stockton, California, where he was bothered by an Achilles tendon problem for most of the year and hit only .232. But he rebounded at San Jose, California, the following season, batting .300 with 27 home runs and 99 RBI. He was named to the 1979 California League All-Star team based on his all-around play.
He was promoted to the Mariners Triple-A Spokane, Washington, franchise for the 1980 season. He was playing well for Spokane until arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage in his left knee slowed him in late June. But he still managed to contribute 50 RBI in a little over 100 games, and the Mariners decided he was ready to be tested at the big league level.
Dave Henderson was twenty-one years old when he made his major league debut as the starting centerfielder against the Oakland A’s in 1981. He hit his first major league home run on April 17, also against the A’s, in the old Seattle Kingdome. But the Mariners decided he was not quite ready for prime time, and he split the 1981 season between Seattle and Spokane. He was back in the big leagues in September and he scored the winning run against the Red Sox in the Mariners 8-7 victory in 20 innings at Fenway Park.
In 1982 Dave Henderson was back in the big leagues for good, and he would remain there for the next 13 seasons. In his first full major league season he hit .253 with 14 home runs, including 9 round trippers in the first half of the season. The following season he appeared in 137 games and increased his home run total to 17.
In 1984 he raised his batting average to .280 and showed signs of attaining his elite player potential. In late August he hit game-winning home runs against the A’s in consecutive games. And despite a nagging hamstring injury that put him on the disabled list, he hit .353 over the second half of the season.
In 1985 he played in a then career-high 139 games, and put together a 14-game hitting streak. “I had some decent seasons in Seattle, but they were really five month seasons,” Dave recalled, looking back on his years in the Emerald City. “We had some bad teams and it seemed like we had a different manager every season. Come September they would play the latest prospect and the regulars would sit on the bench.”
In 1986 former Red Sox manager Dick Williams took over the helm in Seattle. The relationship between the fiery Williams and the laid-back Henderson was not a match made in heaven. On August 19 he was traded to the Boston Red Sox, along with shortstop Spike Owen, for shortstop Ray Quinones and pitchers Mike Brown and Mike Trujillo. At the time of the trade he was the Mariners career leader in home runs and he was tied for the team’s lead in extra base hits.
Ironically, the 1986 Seattle Mariners game that Dave remembers best is Roger Clemens’ 20-strikeout game at Fenway Park on April 29. Asked if he contributed to Roger’s record setting total, he laughs heartily and responded, “Come on, when you strike out 20 guys, everybody in the lineup is going down!” For the record, Henderson struck out three times, and he was victim number eighteen, which allowed Clemens to surpass Bill Monbouquette’s Red Sox record of seventeen strikeouts.
“What I remember best is that Roger gave all of us a keepsake of the game. And my son Chase was born a few weeks after that game. I still have that memento and it reminds me of Chase’s birth.”
Dave Henderson was so pleased to be traded to Boston that he sought out co-owner Haywood Sullivan and shook his hand, saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” But with an outfield of Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, and Tony Armas, his playing time with his new team was limited. He was used primarily as a defensive replacement, managing only 51 at-bats over the last 6 weeks of the season. His batting average of .196 and his one home run with the Red Sox made him an unlikely hero of Game Five in the ALCS.
When the Red Sox and the California Angels returned to Fenway Park for Game Six of the ALCS, the Angels still held a three-games-to-two lead in the Series. But there seemed to be little doubt about the outcome. “In batting practice, you could see how flat the Angels were,” Henderson remembered. “To come as close as they did, and then to fly across the country for the next game. But more importantly, we were up. We were confident that we would win.”
And win they did. Dennis “Oil Can” pitched well in Game Six and the Sox won 10-4. Roger Clemens was outstanding in Game Seven and Boston won handily by a score of 8-1. Then it was on to New York to face the heavily-favored Mets in the World Series.
Dave Henderson was outstanding in the 1986 World Series. Playing in all seven games, he went 10-25 for a .400 batting average, and he contributed two important home runs. In Game Two at Shea Stadium he homered off Mets wunderkind Doc Gooden to put the Red Sox up 4-0, and Boston jumped out to a two game advantage in the Series.
And in the fateful sixth game, with the score tied 3-3, Henderson led off the tenth inning with a home run to give the Red Sox the lead and a potential World Championship. Although it didn’t turn out that way, for a brief moment it appeared that Dave Henderson would be the hero of both the ALCS and the World Series.
Although his Game Five home run brought him fame, Dave took more pride in his World Series achievements. “Compared to the World Series my home run in Game Five was almost a joke. When I hit that home run I was at the plate as a part-time player and the Angels knew it. In the World Series I was a regular and I had a hot bat. The Mets pitchers were taking me seriously and really working me. Coming through in the World Series was a much bigger accomplishment.”
Despite his postseason heroics, Dave Henderson returned to his role as a part-time outfielder for the Red Sox in 1987. Emerging outfield stars Ellis Burks and Mike Greenwell joined veterans Rice and Evans, and Henderson’s playing time was limited. On September 1, after getting only 205 at-bats for the Red Sox, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants.
Dave Henderson finished out the 1987 season appearing in 15 games for the Giants. In December he signed as a free agent with the Oakland Athletics. At that point he had played in all or parts of seven seasons in the big leagues. He had played as a starter during most of his career with Seattle, and he had achieved a level of notoriety, but at age twenty-nine he had yet to realize his full potential.
Happily, the Oakland A’s were the right team at the right time for Dave Henderson. Playing regularly for the Western Division Champions, he hit a career-high .304 and rapped out 24 home runs. Best of all, the A’s were 23-1 in the 24 games when Henderson homered. And he continued his postseason magic, batting .300 as the A’s swept the Red Sox in the ALCS, and .375 while the A’s fell to the Dodgers in the World Series.
“The A’s were a very competitive ball club,” Henderson said, reflecting on his comeback year with Oakland. “And I always brought a football players mentality to the game. Playing with a winning team like Oakland and playing in the postseason really helped me to focus.”
His personal statistics declined the following season but he helped the A’s to win another American League West crown with ninety-nine victories. And he homered in the ALCS Series with Toronto, which Oakland won in five games. Most importantly, he hit .308 during the A’s four-game sweep over the San Francisco Giants for a World Championship.
In 1990 Henderson contributed 20 home runs and the A’s won 103 games for their third straight Western Division title. The A’s swept the Red Sox in four straight in the ALCS before losing in the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.
Asked if he felt any particular emotion while sweeping his former team twice in three years in the ALCS, Henderson responded, “Only the joy of winning. That’s all you think about when you are out there competing. But maybe after everyone has gone home and they shut the lights out, you think about the good guys like Lou Gorman and Dick Bresciani who had been trying to win it for so long.”
In 1991 Dave Henderson had probably his best year in the major leagues. He followed his old high school pal Rickey Henderson in the batting order, and he was fed a steady diet of fastballs whenever the speedy Rickey was on first base. Hendu batted .340 during the first half of the season and he was selected as an American League All-Star. His memory of his All-Star appearance is a humorous one.
“The game was in Toronto, and the Blue Jays were the A’s big rivals at the time. As each of my teammates was introduced they were booed unmercifully. When it came my turn to be introduced, I said to Cecil fielder [Detroit Tigers first baseman], ‘They won’t boo me.’ But I had forgotten I was miked, and everyone heard me. But they didn’t boo me!”
Dave Henderson was injured for most of the 1992 season and appeared in only 20 games for Oakland. But he came back strong in 1993, hitting 20 home runs in just 107 games. His final big league season was 1994 with the Kansas City Royals where he batted .247 in 56 games.
“I probably could have played a little longer, but my knee was bothering me and I wanted to spend more time with my family. My son Chase was eight at the time and Trent was six. When you’re playing you travel all the time. I’m glad I decided to retire when I did.”
DAVE HENDERSON LATER YEARS
At the time of our interview Dave Henderson lived in Bellevue, Washington, a Seattle suburb that he had called home for over twenty years. Asked if the California native considered Seattle to be home, Henderson responded enthusiastically. “I really do think of this as home. I have lived here a long time now. Seattle is a good-sized city, but not too big. Everyone talks about the rain here, but you get used to it, and you don’t have to shovel it.”
He was in his tenth year of broadcasting the Seattle Mariner games on television and radio at the time of our interview. “I have a ‘job-sharing’ arrangement with Dave Valle [Red Sox catcher in 1994]. I do about sixty games each year and Dave does the rest. I limit my games to mostly home games so I can spend as much time with my family as possible. I might take a road series in Oakland or Anaheim, but that’s about it. I really enjoy my role in the broadcast booth.”
And if you wanted to see that famous 100,000 watt Dave Henderson smile, all you had to do is ask him about his sons Chase and Trent. “Chase turned twenty [at that time] in June and Trent is an 18 year-old [at that time] with a possible future in baseball. He played shortstop in high school and the scouts have been watching him. I have really enjoyed watching Trent’s games and passing on my advice.”
Dave was active in charity work in the Seattle area, and devoted a great deal of time to the Angelman Syndrome Foundation. Angelman Syndrome is a neurological disorder that afflicts his son Chase. “I am involved in the local children’s hospital and Cystic Fibrosis, but of course, the Angelman Foundation has a special place in my heart.”
He was also actively involved in organizing and running fantasy baseball camps that give fans a taste of the life of the major league player. “I really enjoy running the fantasy camps,” he said at that time. “I work with the Mariners camp, and I also have my own camps in Tucson, Arizona, including one for players age 40 and over. They are a lot of fun for everyone.”
HENDU AND BIG PAPPI
What did Dave Henderson and David Ortiz have in common? Clearly they both possessed smiles bright enough that they could light up Fenway Park for a night game. And there is no doubt that they shared a talent for hitting dramatic home runs in the post-season. But a less known fact is that they both began their professional baseball careers in the Seattle Mariners system.
We shake our heads in wonderment that the Minnesota Twins allowed Big Pappi to get away, but the Mariners actually had him first. And he played for four years in their system, accumulating a variety of All-Star awards during that time. In September 1996 the Mariners moved Ortiz to the Twins as the player to be named later in exchange for Dave Hollins, who played a total of 28 games in Seattle.
Dave Henderson was a big fan of David Ortiz. “I love to watch Big Pappi hit. And I loved his dramatic home runs in the 2004 postseason. I was so happy that the Red Sox won. I still have a lot of good friends in Boston. And I was happy because people could stop asking me when they were going to win it.
“But David Ortiz owns that town now. He’s the guy who will never have to pay for a meal in that city again. I have officially passed the torch. People can talk about his game winning home runs instead of mine,” Dave laughed.
Thirty years have passed since Henderson’s date with destiny in the 1986 postseason. And Big Pappi has indeed surpassed him as the posterboy for postseason heroics. But Dave Henderson will always have a place in the hearts’ of Boston baseball fans because Red Sox fans recognize a good guy when they see one.