Dave Henderson Left Us Way Too Soon

It is always sad hearing about the passing of an old friend. Old friend does not mean they were old, just that they have been friends for a long time. Unfortunately, each year more of that occurs, and the same response comes, “Way too young.” Some of those that die elicit a few memories and others many more. Some deaths hurt more than others. This past week a friend left that brought a torrent of things. The memories made me smile; the tears were for his life ending and the prayers were for his family and close friends.

Dave Henderson, “Hendu” died last week at the age of 57. I hadn’t seen my friend in thirty years, since being teammates with the Seattle Mariners. We were never “hang-around” friends either, just teammates that enjoyed each other. Having the tears after all these years attests to the power of the bonds created in sports. That’s just the way it is when people have played and competed together. The sense of family is real in sports and lasts forever. I would never compare sports play to battle on the war front, but I have heard about the brotherhood created there. I can only imagine the strength of that must be unbelievable because the sports bond is so strong. I feel like if I had run into Dave in the years since, we would be comfortable with each other like the old days. It would have been easy to talk about our lives now and reminisce about the past. Time passes, the friendships do not, so I call us friends even though we haven’t stayed in touch.

Everything I read about Hendu since his passing nailed it right on the head about him. I remember a man who was – generous, optimistic, classy, compassionate, caring – as every article said. It doesn’t get much better than that.  Of course, every article I read also mentioned the “Smile.” Yes, that was the first thing I thought of when reading the heart-rending news of his passing. He was always smiling. I am sure he would have been my mom’s favorite player if she knew of his penchant for smiling. From the time even before little league, she would implore me to smile when playing. I was never very good at it on the ball field, but Hendu smiled there and everywhere. I remember some people questioned if he took the game serious enough because of all the smiling. That was just Hendu. I wonder why the U.S. State Department never hired him to negotiate with our enemies. He would have walked in, did his thing (smile), and everyone would feel among friends. Bingo, the world would be a better place.

If anyone has a picture of him without a big smile on his face, it is probably a forgery. But, he was so much more, and what an athlete he was. A friend of mine once asked me who the best athlete I ever played with, and Dave Henderson was one of the names that came to mind. He was a five-tool player that would be an excellent player even in the modern age. Players are bigger than in our day, but Hendu fits today’s mold. He could have been a success in any sport with his size and athleticism. Also, Hendu had a flair to his game, which would make him perfect for today’s media generation and an instant star to the young players.

Bob Welch – Another teammate gone too soon

Bob Welch

Bob Welch

I mentioned these occurrences seem to happen more and more often. I was thinking of the passing of another teammate – the great Dodger and Oakland A’s pitcher, Bob Welch. Bob was another who left us too soon and was another with an infectious personality. Like Dave, his smile would light up a room. Bob and Hendu were teammates on the great Oakland A’s teams in the late eighties. I would guess the A’s clubhouse was the brightest place on earth with those two in there.

I often tell my students about the old days and the life lessons that come with stories of the past. One of my stories is about my Los Angeles Dodgers teammate, Bob Welch. I tell them of the ferocious battles Bob had in the 1979 World Series against Hall of Fame player Reggie Jackson. I speak of the incredible year he had with the Oakland A’s in 1988 when he won 28 games. I also explain Bob Welch’s ferocious battles with his one enemy in the world and how that enemy got the best of him at times in his life. I want them to know that no one is immune to the many challenges they will encounter. Even the biggest of stars have the same fights and alcohol can be a nasty enemy.

I am sure a future story to my students will be about Dave Henderson. Of course, not all my stories are about those who have left us. It’s just their passing gives us time to reflect and gain the understanding of what they meant to us.  I will begin the tale with Dave’s 1986 heroics with the Boston Red Sox. The unlikeliness of his heroics was a message itself and something for the baseball history books.

Dave began the 1986 season as a Seattle Mariner. He played against his future team the Red Sox in the opening game of the year when Roger Clemens struck out 20 Mariners. After a trade to the Red Sox late in the season, Hendu did not play a lot and did not hit much. He had only one home run and three RBI’s until the playoffs. Then, the miracles began. Hendu hit the memorable game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth inning of a game against the California Angels. He followed that with the game-winning sacrifice fly in extra innings. He was only playing because of another outfielder’s injury.

He went on to hit another memorable home run in game 6 of the World Series. All was set for Hendu to be the hero for the Boston Red Sox first championship in a zillion years. It wasn’t meant to be, but the Legend of Dave Henderson had begun. His clutch play continued with the Oakland A’s in their playoff and World Series years as his career post-season statistics shows – .298 batting average with 7 home runs.

Dave Henderson – The Message to Live By

The remarkable thing and the message I pass on is that one could never tell if he had just won the game with a hit, just struck out, or was not even playing. He smiled through it all and lived the message he passed on to everyone, “Always have fun.” To have that attitude on the biggest stage should be an example to young ballplayers to do the same on the little stages. I have people like Hendu on my mind when I tell my students that there is one thing that will open more doors in their future than their sports play – a smile. Adversity is going to come for all athletes, so why not handle it with class and smile through it all. 

Finally, when I read about Dave Henderson’s life since his baseball playing days, it makes me wonder. Am I doing enough to make the world a better place as Hendu did?  I realize I need to step it up and do more. Maybe that is the lasting legacy of Hendu – Do more, and do it with a smile, because u never know when your ability to do that will come to an end. That’s what great people do I guess, they inspire the rest of us to get going. Thanks, Hendu. He was a great example of an athlete who “got it”, and I am sure he just opened the door we all want to reach – Heaven’s.

#davehenderson #setttlemariners

Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching and parenting stories help create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is in the works. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte at YouTube with over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos. 

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