Dave Henderson, one of the most instrumental players on three A’s World Series teams of the late 80’s and early 90’s, died Sunday morning at age 57.
Henderson suffered a massive heart attack, according to a press release from the Seattle Mariners, his original major league team. He had also undergone a kidney transplant back on Oct. 26.
Known for the energy and unique style he brought to the field, Henderson was the starting center fielder on three consecutive A’s teams that played in the World Series from 1988-90, including the ’89 club that swept the Giants in the Fall Classic.
News of his passing spread early Sunday morning, with old teammates swapping calls and sharing grief for a player whose impact was felt from the moment he signed with Oakland before the ‘88 season.
“He was unique,” former A’s manager Tony La Russa said. “He knew how to have a good time, but when it came time to play, he knew the goal was to have more runs than the other team. Right away, Dave established that he was one of those guys that would take it seriously as far as winning games and getting to October.”
Henderson played 14 seasons in the Major Leagues, including a brief stint with the Giants in 1987, and hit 197 homers for five teams total. Two years before landing in Oakland, the man known simply as “Hendu” clubbed one of the most memorable homers in postseason history while with Boston -- a two-run shot off the Angels’ Donnie Moore in Game 5 of the 1986 American League Championship series, which helped turn the tide of that series in the Red Sox’s favor.
But Henderson enjoyed his greatest years in green and gold from 1988-93. Playing alongside superstars like Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Rickey Henderson, who usually got more attention, Dave Henderson posted four 20-homer seasons with Oakland and made his only All-Star team in 1991.
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During the World Series sweep of the Giants in ’89, Henderson went 4 for 13 with two home runs.
“I’ve told people before, he was kind of a leader of that ‘89 championship team,” longtime A’s equipment manager Steve Vucinich said. “He and Dave Parker, they were the loud guys. He was one of the leaders of that team. It’s tough to stomach … only 57 years old.”
Vucinich, who’s been with the team since 1968, was still in shock over Henderson’s passing. The former outfielder helped run a fantasy camp in Arizona. As recently as the past week, he and Vucinich had traded texts as Henderson was trying to gather information about former A’s players who might be able to help with the camp. Vucinich said he had no idea about Henderson’s recent health issues, and that Henderson never made mention of them.
A’s fans will remember the flair with which he played the game, bounding out of the batter’s box after a home run or going into a crouch to haul in a one-handed catch. Henderson often would turn and wave to fans cheering him from the outfield bleachers, and even in the years after he retired in 1994, Henderson kept in contact with a close-knit group of A’s fans.
“He was always smiling, and the most important thing about him, he always had fun,” Vucinich said.
In July 2014, Henderson attended a 25th anniversary celebration of that ’89 team at the Coliseum. At that event, he was one of many former A’s wearing jerseys with a “BW” patch in memory of teammate Bob Welch, another player from that team who had passed away just a month before the event. Welch also was just 57.
Canseco, who had been estranged from many of his old teammates before that reunion, tweeted a picture Sunday morning of him and Henderson from that event.
“I'm going to miss you my friend,” Canseco wrote. “Thanks for accepting me back and making me feel welcome. Rip hendu.”