The gap-toothed smile of Dave Henderson is emblematic of the exuberance that he brought to the game and which he displayed unabashedly after slugging a playoff home run for the ages. A native of Merced, California, in the stateís Central Valley, he was born on July 21, 1958, eventually filling out as a strapping 6-foot-2-inch, 210-pound athlete gifted in two major sports. He graduated from Dos Palos High School, where he was named an All-American in football as a running back and in baseball.
Henderson drew the notice of Seattle Mariners scouts, who signed him after he was selected in the first round of the 1977 amateur draft, the 26th pick overall.
Shortly after the draft, he broke into minor-league ball with the Bellingham Mariners of the short-season Northwest League and tied for the league lead with 16 home runs while driving in 63 runs in 65 games and hitting a robust .315. The next year at Stockton of the Class-A California League, Henderson slumped to .232.
Remaining in the California League in 1979, this time with San Jose, Dave rebounded with an all-star campaign (.300, 27 HR, 99 RBIs, second-best outfielder, with more than 100 games played) which helped his club reach the league playoffs and capture the league championship.
Hendersonís breakout year earned him a jump past Double-A ball and on to the Pacific Coast League Spokane Indians in 1980. Missing almost four weeks due to a stint on the disabled list for arthroscopic surgery on some bone spurs, Henderson saw his production fall off.
Beginning March of 1981, Henderson embarked on a 12-game hitting streak and ostensibly demonstrated his readiness to don a major-league uniform. His performance impressed enough to ensure his place as the starting center fielder on Opening Night at the Kingdome versus the California Angels. However, the reality of major-league pitching soon set in, and the 22-year-old was returned to Spokane, where he once more gained his footing and earned all-star honors for the third time.
Entering 1982, Henderson proved that he was ready to abandon his journey in the minor leagues, and with the exception of two brief stays on the disabled list in May 1982 and August 1984, he remained on the Marinersí roster through the summer of 1986.
As Seattle floundered in 1986, Henderson was helpless to his team because a hamstring injury relegated him to the disabled list for most of August. When healthy, he maintained a hold on center field. His final numbers (.280, 14 HRs, 43 RBIs) were solid but unspectacular. The fun-loving side of Hendersonís demeanor endeared him to legions of fans, especially those in the bleachers, who engaged him in conversation between innings, even between pitches.
Henderson was dispatched to the Boston Red Sox in a trade that also sent shortstop Spike Owen east in exchange for shortstop Rey Quinones, pitchers Mike Brown and Mike Trujillo, and outfielder John Christensen. Upon arrival in Boston, where Tony Armas was the Red Soxí regular center fielder, his role diminished to that of a fill-in.
For 1986, Henderson logged numbers similar to those of two years prior (.265, 15 HRs, 47 RBIs), but having been banished to a new team, as well as an unaccustomed seat on the bench, he was a mere spectator as his club captured the AL East title. It appeared that his role entering the 1986 American League Championship Series would be that of pinch-hitter, a far cry from the heights he reached in fulfilling his promise as a first-round draft pick who seemed to have made good on his potential.
Not surprisingly, the bench is exactly where he could be found for most of the first four games of the ALCS against the California Angels. Entering Game Five in Anaheim, the Red Sox were down three games to one in the best-of-seven series, and Henderson again began the day watching from the Boston dugout. But when Armas suffered an ankle sprain, Dave Henderson took his place in the bottom of the fifth, thereby embarking on a Jekyll-and-Hyde outing that became legendary in postseason play.
With two out in the Angelsí half of the sixth inning, Californiaís Doug DeCinces hit a double to right field, bringing Bobby Grich to the plate. On a 1-and-2 pitch from Bruce Hurst, Grich drove a ball to deep center field as Henderson ran back attempting the catch. Timing his leap perfectly just as he approached the fence, he snared the drive as it was coming down, a play worthy of any highlight reel. But when his left forearm smacked against the top of the fence, the ball popped loose and, in essence, was deflected over the barrier for a stunning two-run homer that gave the Angels a 3-2 lead. He then closed out the top of the seventh for Boston by striking out, thereby compounding his own misery as well as that of the Red Sox when the Angels padded their lead with two more runs in the home half of that inning.
With ace Mike Witt on the mound and still in control in the ninth, the Angels were poised to secure their first trip to the World Series. But fate intervened as Bill Buckner opened with a single and Don Baylor followed one out later with a two-run home run to cut the California lead to 5-4. Dwight Evans popped out to third for the second out, and Angels manager Gene Mauch, trying to shake the ghosts of collapse that had nagged at him since his 1964 Phillies blew the National League pennant, summoned southpaw Gary Lucas to face the left-handed-hitting catcher Rich Gedman. Witt had not been able to solve Gedman in Game Five, so Mauch played the percentages by opting for his best lefty reliever. The move, however, backfired when Lucas plunked Gedman with the only pitch he would throw, and Mauch again followed the book by bringing in right-handed closer Donnie Moore to deal with the next scheduled batter, Dave Henderson.
Working the count on Henderson to 2-and-2, Moore labored to bring the Angels to just a single pitch away from the AL pennant. But the Red Sox center fielder spoiled the celebration by lofting a home run over the fence in left field to give the Red Sox a 6-5 lead. When the Angels dramatically knotted the score in the bottom of the ninth and remained tied entering the 11th, Henderson completed his vindication by plating the winning run with a sacrifice fly off Moore to secure the Red Sox win.
Continuing to play a hot hand, Henderson did well in the World Series by batting .400 in the seven-game set. Among his 10 hits were two more home runs, one off Dwight Gooden in Bostonís Game Two win and another stirring shot in the 10th inning of Game Six that put the Red Sox ahead 4-3. But just as he had delivered Boston from the precipice of defeat in the ALCS, so too would the Mets rebound when faced with elimination by plating three runs to win Game Six, aided by the infamous Bill Buckner error, and then claim Game Seven and the Series crown.
For Henderson, his celebrity in Boston was ephemeral. In 1987, he opened as the center fielder but was hampered by a slow start in which he ended April hitting a tepid .239. As Boston quickly fell off the pace in the AL East, manager John McNamara elected to go with a youth movement of his own by installing rookie Ellis Burks in center field and spelling Jim Rice occasionally with Mike Greenwell in left field. Henderson was back in the same bench-warming role as he was when he first joined the Red Sox, and Bostonís outfield became even more crowded upon the arrival of Todd Benzinger, who played right field and first base.
Veteran Don Baylor continued to serve as the designated hitter, so the odd man out in the lineup ended up being Henderson. By the end of August, Red Sox general manager Lou Gorman found a new home for Baylor by trading him to Minnesota and for Dave by sending him to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Randy Kutcher.
He next signed as a free agent by the Oakland Athletics in December 1987, and took a pay cut in order to hang on with a big-league club. His prospects for playing time looked inauspicious. Facing the same last-strike challenge he had encountered in Game Five of the 1986 ALCS, however, Henderson rose to the occasion and won the center-field job in convincing fashion. For the 146 games he played in 1988, he batted .304, belted 24 home runs.
The postseason matchup against AL East champion Boston again showcased Oaklandís strength in a four-game sweep of the Red Sox for the American League pennant. Henderson showed no sign of letting up as he hit safely in each contest (6-for-16, .375) and drove in four runs. Against the underdog Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, he fared well, batting .300 on 6-for-20, but four of those hits came in a losing effort in Game Four, and he drove in only one run in the five-game Series loss.
He officially remained in an Oakland uniform when he re-signed a two-year deal worth $850,000 each year. This was a handsome increase from the $450,000 he received his first year with the Athletics and also a nod to his finishing in 13th place in voting for the American League Most Valuable Player award.
As Oakland dealt with other injuries to key members of the lineup at various times throughout the year, Henderson endured extended slumps in June and August yet persevered to finish with a .250 average. The Oakland dynasty under Tony LaRussaís guidance peaked with his only World Series crown in an Athletic uniform, but his team still showed in 1990 that it was worthy of yet another league pennant. For his part, Henderson played not as active a role as he would have liked. Most of his contributions came prior to his landing on the disabled list on August 21st, and until that time he had swung the bat with authority. At the close of the 1990 season, Henderson once more became a free agent upon the expiration of his two-year contract. The intangibles Henderson brought to the team, in addition to his deeds on the field, delivered a huge reward in the form of a three-year contract totaling over $8.3 million.
In 1992, Henderson again went down on May 6th and did not return to Oakland until September 1st. He saw limited action in the seasonís final month, but with his hamstring afflicted yet again, he was a non-factor as the Athletics shuffled various outfielders
By 1993, and now in the final year of his contract, Dave Henderson had to prove that his nagging leg injuries were in the past, yet LaRussa was prepared to make alternate arrangements as spring training opened. Henderson met LaRussaís lowered expectations, playing 76 games in the outfield, most of them in his accustomed place in center, but he clearly felt the effects of troubled legs, spending more time (28 games) as a designated hitter in 1993 than he had as a DH in the previous five years combined. Another unwelcome trip to the disabled list with a groin injury took place in June To that point, he was batting only .203. He raised his average marginally to finish at .220. Nothing that most Athletics players did could rescue the club from sinking to last place in the AL West. When Dave was granted free agency after the completion of the 1993 World Series, he became a former Athletic in search of a job.
Injuries having rendered him as a liability, only the Kansas City Royals were willing to take a chance on an oft-hurt player in his mid-30s. They signed him in late January, 1994 at a drastic pay cut to $750,000, and relegated the former All-Star to the corners of the outfield and to the DH slot. At the end of July and shortly before the players followed through on their threat to go on strike, miseries with his upper hip took a toll once more and forced him onto the disabled list. When the major leagues effectively ceased operations with the stoppage of play in early August, Dave Hendersonís career also came to an end to all intents and purposes.
In his retirement, Henderson served in the Seattle Marinersí broadcast booth and was a participant at Marinersí and Aís fantasy camps. He also supported the cause to combat Angelman Syndrome, a genetic condition that affected one of his sons. In October 2015, he underwent kidney transplant surgery, but quite sadly he succumbed to a heart attack in Seattle, on December 27, 2014 at the age of 57.