day 42: hendu

Today is 42 days, which is six weeks of the omer: malchut she’b’yesod.

First: I already wrote about Robinson here. Granted, I probably should have gone next to Mo. But this week was getting a little too East Cost heavy. And yes, while centerfielder Dave Henderson was responsible for one of the most memorable moments in postseason history as a member of the 1986 Red Sox team, this Northern California native spent the most time on and was beloved by West Coast clubs Seattle and Oakland. It was with the latter team that he had his best years and made three WS appearances, winning the title with the Athletics in 1989 — which means that he was teammates with last week’s Rickey Henderson (no relation).

The comparison is instructive. Same team, same last name, but like their jersey numbers (I profiled Rickey for Day 35, but he was #24 during his second stint in Oakland), the two  were in many ways inverses. But I’ve chosen them for the same daily sefirah, just in different weeks.

teammates Henderson on the 20th anniversary of the 1989 WS; photo: Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle

Unlike his eccentric teammate, Dave is remembered fondly for his effervescence on and off the field: Rickey was prickly, but Dave was the fave. Sports Illustrated’s Steve Rushin once quipped that Rickey could quickly go from Most Valuable Player to Most Voluble Player, but Dave had a smile that “runs foul pole to foul pole.” That facial expression was deliberate, if not studied: As Mike Sowell reported in One Pitch Away (a history of the 1986 postseason), “I don’t think you should have a stone face, Henderson said. “I just don’t take this baseball stuff too seriously.”

But he was there when needed most, as when, teammate and friend Dave Stewart noted, Hendu was able to manage the As outfield consisting of the big personalities of Rickey and Jose Canseco. He connected with teammates and fans alike, every game waving and smiling as he took center field. Stories of his charm and goofiness abound.

You can see that joy as he hops up and down along the first base line waiting for that two-out, two-strike, two-run home run — in the top of the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 1986 ACLS — to get out of the park, a move second only in Red Sox history to Carlton Fisk waiving his walk-off homer fair in the same place in Game 6 of the 1975 WS. Henderson’s HR sent the series back to Boston, where the Sox won Game 6 and 7 to advance to the WS (which sadly they lost). Its iconic nature was immediately recognized, as you hear the announcer immediately proclaim: “You’re lookin’ at one for the ages here.”

I realized a few years ago that Henderson had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for research on the neurogenetic disorder Angelman syndrome, which one of his son has, when my cousin’s oldest child was diagnosed. Henderson was a color-commentator for the Mariners for many years, declining full-time opportunities to spend time with his son. But sadly, in 2015 Henderson died way too young, of a heart attack at age 57 two months after a kidney transplant.

Hendu easily takes as place among the tzaddikim of the week of yesod. And while he didn’t own the plates like Rickey, he certainly was king of his domain. We count Day 42 in  honor of this tzaddik-king.

featured image: Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images


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