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In Praise of the Other Henderson
2006-08-06 09:46
by Philip Michaels

A few months back in this very space, Ken warned that Esteban Loaiza -- he of the bent elbow and lead foot -- had earned himself a place on the list of most least-favorite A's players of all time. That prompted me to ask just who exactly is on that list. And that prompted Ken to produced a list of 25 Least Favorite Oakland Athletics -- a rogues' gallery of Ariel Prietos, Buddy Grooms, and Ruben Sierras that would make even the most taciturn Oakalnd fan quake with rage. And that, in turn, inspired Cliff Corcoran to come up with a list of his least favorite Yankees.*

And all this talk of hated ballplayers because of my question. That's me -- sower of discord, reaper of misery, rekindler of unpleasant memories. Trifle with me at your peril.

But we are not just about inspiring other bloggers to express their long simmering disdain for ballplayers that have wronged them. We are also about the love. And so what better way to dip our toe into the Catfish Stew waters -- please take no notice of the "Trainee" hat -- than by talking about our favorite Oakland Athletic of all time.

I've never been into the marquee names. I suppose it's the snot-nosed contrarian in me. So while I can appreciate the contributions of your Rickey Hendersons, your Mark McGwires, your Eric Chavezes, your Cansecos of the non-Ozzie variety, I figure they get enough support from the home crowd without me doing anything more than applauding politely. It's the under-the-radar guys that I tend to have the most affinity for, the players whose names would appear after the title of the highlight film with an "Also Featuring" credit. You hardly ever find these guys' names on the backs of retro jerseys -- believe me, I've looked -- but they always seem to keep popping up whenever I look back on some of my favorite A's-themed memories.

And that's why my favorite Athletic of all-time is Dave Henderson.

Dave Henderson recorded just under half of his career at-bats in Oakland, tallying a .263/.324/.445 line with 104 home runs and 377 RBIs in six seasons as an Athletic. By my doubtlessly incorrect math, that's something 364 runs created. His 1988 and 1991 seasons were particularly solid, the other years less so. Those numbers are... OK, but not the sort of thing that gets future generations to memorialize your name in legend and song.

But the Hendu love has little to do with the numbers. I admired the way he took the field, how he always seemed happy to be there and how he se seemed to make the most out of both opportunity and ability. I remember a day game from the 1989 season -- probably this one, though exact dates and details fade with the passage of time -- in which a Cleveland batter roped a liner to center that seemed ticketed for a double; Henderson bolted for it, dove, and caught the ball. Later that game -- the very next half-inning, if my Swiss cheese memory is working properly -- he hit a home run.

I enjoy that kind of brio. I love to watch a guy who loves what he's doing. I love the way he reacted to the smattering of cheers he received when introduced at the 1991 All Star Game: "They don't boo Hendu," he said to the guy next to him in line. And that is why I plan to bore people with tales of Dave Henderson until I am a toothless old man incapable of speech.

And your runners-up for the highly coveted Phil's Favorite Athletic crown:

• Miguel Tejada: OK, he defies the No Marquee Guys policy -- winning an MVP award tends to assure you of top billing. But like Hendu, he brought the ever-present enthusiasm to the ballpark every day. I'm as quick to dismiss intangibles as much as the next guy, but it's hard to ignore Tejada's flair for the dramatic, late-inning hit -- it's a quality that, quantifiable or not, seems to be sorely lacking from the A's ever since Miggy left for Baltimore.

• Mark Mulder: I'm including him here, largely because I always enjoyed watching him pitch -- efficient, effective, and, when he really had it going on in 2003 and the first part of 2004, unbeatable. Also, I found out he was traded standing while standing in the middle of the Tropicana Casino in Las Vegas; my blood-curdling scream drew the attention of hotel security. So I guess that means I kinda dug him.

• Marco Scutaro: Since we are all the heroes of our own narrative, I imagine that most of us envision ourselves as a Barry Zito or Eric Chavez type. Reality often has a far more brutal assessment. So why not be happy to be Marco Scutaro? Here's a guy that, two of the three seasons he's been in Oakland, he wasn't even expected to make the team. But circumstances intervened and when they did, he was ready to answer the bell -- and with more than a few game-winning hits to boot. You could do a lot worse than wind up with that kind of life.

• Dave Kingman: An odd choice for this list, because I can't imagine too many other human beings I'd want to meet less. But when you're 13 years old, and you hop on a bus in Danville bound for the Walnut Creek BART station and you have to change trains at MacArthur to get to your bleacher seat at the Coliseum to watch a not-very-good A's team, then dammit, you want to see someone hit a home run, even if he winds up sending rats to reporters who offend his delicate sensibilities. And Kingman could hit home runs, so that was all right by me. I don't pretend this makes me a fabulous human being.

• Steve McCatty: He went to the same church that I did when I was growing up, and he always was nice enough to me. Besides, us Lutherans got to stick together, now more than ever.

* Interestingly enough, five of the 25 Yankees that made Cliff's list also spent time in Oakland (six, if you want to count Jeff Weaver, who was an Athletic long enough for Billy Beane to flip him for Ted Lilly). Of those five, four wound up in Oakland after wearing out their welcome in the Bronx. (The fifth, Greg Cadaret, was used to retrieve Rickey Henderson from exile.) That's not how it's supposed to work, is it? The A's are supposed to snooker big-spenders like the Yanks into taking problem players off their hands, not vice-versa.

2006-08-06 11:46:19
1.   Ken Arneson
I, too, loved Hendu. His joy of playing baseball was infectious. The way he interacted with the fans in bleachers made every game he played in just a lot of fun.

I find it weird that the USS Mariner folks despise him so. Of course, I don't have to listen to him analyze baseball games, but I find the concept of disliking Hendu utterly inconceivable.

2006-08-06 11:58:10
2.   Philip Michaels
When I lived in Los Angeles, I had the MLB Extra Innings package. And yes, I could see where listening to Dave Henderson on commentary could drive a man to distraction, especially if you did not have pleasant memories of his playing days.

Fortunately, I have such memories. And a mute button. So I was able to escape two years of periodic exposure to Hendu behind the mic with 99 percent of my goodwill intact.

2006-08-06 13:03:45
3.   Bob Timmermann
As a neutral observer, I like Henderson despite his breaking the hearts of Angels fans in 1986. I learned then that I couldn't root for the Angels as much as the Dodgers.

As an announcer, he's somewhat blah.

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