Sunday, December 27, 2015

Dave Henderson, Who Nearly Beat the Mets in the 1986 World Series, Dies at 57

Dave Henderson (July 2, 1958 - December 27, 2015)

It was the tenth inning of Game Six of the 1986 World Series.  The Mets and Red Sox were tied, 3-3.  And Dave Henderson stepped up to the plate against Mets reliever Rick Aguilera.  What happened next shocked Mets fans everywhere, as Henderson took Aguilera deep, running backwards to first base as the ball sailed over the left field fence to give the Red Sox a 4-3 lead.

One of the reasons why the Red Sox were in the World Series in the first place was because Henderson had supplied another dramatic home run in the American League Championship Series against the California Angels.  With the Angels one strike away from winning the first pennant in team history, Henderson hit a two-run homer off closer Donnie Moore to give the Red Sox a one-run lead.  Now Henderson had given Boston a one-run lead against the Mets in the World Series, with the Red Sox needing one scoreless inning from the bullpen to wrap up the team's first championship since 1918.

Well, we all know what happened next.  And because of the Mets' improbable two-out rally in the bottom of the tenth and their 8-5 victory in Game Seven two nights later, Dave Henderson's home run heroics just became part of the story instead of the biggest moment in Red Sox history.

Incredibly, the home run by Henderson in Game Six was his third of the postseason - he also homered in Boston's Game Two victory over the Mets - after hitting just one home run in 36 games for the Red Sox during the 1986 regular season following his trade from the Seattle Mariners.

Henderson, who was the first player ever drafted by the Mariners in 1977, played 14 years in the big leagues, earning MVP votes in 1988 and 1991 as a member of the Oakland A's and making his only A.L. All-Star team in 1991.  His teams made the postseason four times and he played in the World Series each time, losing the Fall Classic with the Red Sox in 1986 and the A's in 1988 and 1990.  He was also a member of the 1989 World Series champion A's.

From 1988 to 1991, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Rickey Henderson (who returned to Oakland in 1989) were the stars of the team.  But had advanced metrics existed then, more people would have noticed the contributions of Dave Henderson, whose 20.7 WAR from 1988 to 1991 was higher than anyone on the team, including the aforementioned Canseco (20.1 WAR), Henderson (19.5 WAR) and McGwire (13.5 WAR).

Henderson was a key contributor to each pennant-winning team he played for, as evidenced by his .298/.376/.570 career slash line in the playoffs.  Half of his 36 postseason hits went for extra bases (ten doubles, one triple, seven homers) and he drove in 20 runs in 121 postseason at-bats.  And most importantly for Mets fans, he batted .400 (10-for-25) against New York in the 1986 World Series, making a case for World Series MVP (which NBC reported had gone to Bruce Hurst prior to the Mets' miracle comeback) had the Red Sox held on to win the title.

Earlier today, Dave Henderson passed away from cardiac arrest at the young age of 57.  His death came one month after receiving a kidney transplant.

Dave Henderson may not have been a Hall of Fame player.  He was barely an All-Star.  But his contributions for all the teams he played for will never be forgotten, especially when those teams needed him the most.  And had it not been for an improbable rally at Shea Stadium on October 25, 1986, Henderson's name would always remain in the minds of Mets fans who would still be hoping to see the team win its second championship.

Rest in peace, Dave Henderson.

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