Sad news this morning:
Dave Henderson, the gregarious man known as Hendu, died Sunday, one month after getting a kidney transplant. He will be tremendously missed.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 27, 2015
I was too young to remember Dave Henderson the Mariner player. 4 years old is just a little too young to grasp who the shapes you cheer for 5 times a year on a blurry black and white tv are. My first memory of Hendu is watching Ken Burns' Baseball when it first aired in 1994.
It's game 6 of the 1986 World Series, though they don't know it, everything is about to go to shit for the Red Sox. Calvin Schiraldi just had his pitch walloped by Keith Hernandez deep into the Gotham night. Dave Henderson retreats, retreats, a step from the wall, and he makes the catch. The Red Sox are ahead by 2, the bases are empty and the team is 1 out from its first world championship in almost 70 years. Dave Henderson squeezes that fly ball and you can see his body wince, the weight of imminent history almost too much for him to bear. Dave Henderson was a huge man with a voice, smile, and personality to match. But that moment, that quiet semi-kneel to the altar of baseball, is my permanent memory of the man.
Dave Henderson was old school. If you ever heard him in his 10+ years as a Mariner broadcaster that was unmistakable. Rookies should shut up, sac bunts, RBI, etc. You name a trope and it's more likely than not that Hendu was on the mic espousing it for all to hear. As the internet and Moneyball eras washed over the game Henderson stood like an implacable boulder on the shore, refusing to have his opinions altered by the new information in the game.
This stubbornness made him something of an enemy to many on early forms of this site, USS Mariner, and many others. If there was a revolution going on he was most certainly the gilded aristocracy thumbing his nose at the pitchfork brandishing peasants, and he didn't hide that fact.
The funny thing is that the advanced stats make Dave Henderson look like a pretty damn fine ballplayer. After a middling first half of his career Henderson found his prime on the iconic late 80's-early 90's A's teams. From 1988-1991 on a team full of stars like Jose Canseco, Rickey Henderson, Dave Stewart, and Mark McGwire, Dave Henderson more than held his own, averaging 5 fWAR and slugging 84 home runs.
Of course none of this would have made a big difference to Hendu. I'm pretty sure that he wouldn't have given one crap about how many WAR he was worth, and I think that's ok. The world is big enough to allow people to measure themselves by the unit of their choosing, and Dave Henderson was using a different ruler than us.
After years off the Mariner broadcast Hendu came back in 2011, part of the rotating crew that was designed to simultaneously pay homage and fill in for Dave Niehaus. I remember, being still torn up about Dave's passing, the odd comfort that Henderson's various ticks, cliches, and tropes brought me. He was familiar, and the passing of years had softened me towards them and him. He came back, and I liked to think he came back for Dave. That made him family.
In his 14 year major league career Dave Henderson batted .258, hit 197 home runs, was a 2-time All Star, and drove in 708 RBI, all while proudly wearing the number 42. The back of his baseball card looked pretty damn good, and he was probably pretty damn proud of it, and that's perfectly fine with me.
RIP Hendu, I'll miss your smile. You're gone too soon.