WHEN I READ that former Red Sox outfielder Dave Henderson had died of a heart attack at 57, I thought, well, he’s with Donnie Moore now. The two players are forever linked in baseball history by one of those game-changing reversals of fortune that can define a career in a moment both thrilling and cruel. It came in the 9th inning of Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS between the Red Sox and California Angels that I remember watching in my apartment on Tower Drive in Beverly Hills. Moore was on the mound in relief, and the count was 2-2 on Henderson. The Angels were ahead 5-4, with 2 outs — 1 strike away from their first trip to the World Series. But with Rich Gedman on first, “Hendu” hit the next pitch deep to left, rising over Brian Downing’s head before clearing the wall. Al Michaels went nuts. I’m sure all the bars in Boston went nuts. I can still picture Hendu gliding around the bases as if on skates, head up and chin out, his center of gravity low to the ground like the smoothest running back you ever saw. He had such style, Dave Henderson.
The home run off Moore was redemption for an earlier defensive gaffe allowing a drive off the bat of Bobby Grich to bounce off his glove and into the stands for a round-tripper. For Moore it was the opposite of redemption. He stayed in the game, and the Angels came back to tie it, but in the 11th Moore faced Hendu again and gave up a sacrifice fly that scored the winning run for the Red Sox, who returned to Boston and won the final 2 games of the series, earning a chance to face the Mets in the Bill Buckner World Series.
LIKE BUCKNER, who let that damnable ground ball skip under his first baseman’s glove in World Series Game 6 against the Mets two weeks later, Moore was scapegoated by Angels’ fans thereafter as a symbol of failure. He pitched two more journeyman years in Anaheim, then was traded to Kansas City and sent to the minors at the beginning of the 1989 season. The Royals cut him in June. A month later, at home in the Anaheim Hills, he shot himself to death. He was 35. A native of Lubbock, Texas, he had compiled a record in the big leagues of 43 wins and 40 losses with a lifetime ERA of 3.67. Not bad.
You want to think there’s more to life than baseball and its statistics — or fame and fortune. Buckner, a very good player, suffered decades of media-enabled mad fan abuse until the Red Sox finally won a World Series (then another), and the merciless court of public opinion at last pardoned him. For Moore, sadly, the sting of Henderson’s bat on that October evening in Anaheim did not go away fast enough.
Henderson, a native Californian, batted .258 and hit 197 home runs in 13 seasons — not exactly all-star material, though he did make the American League squad as an Oakland Athletic in 1991. But the stats were secondary to his presence in a lineup. He was one of those beautiful players who brought an uncommon élan to the daily challenges of a game that is difficult even for the most elite athletes. He was fun to watch not just because he was good but because he always seemed to be having fun himself, not exactly standard modus operandi in today’s dollar-wise dugouts.
Donnie Moore might have been such a player at one time. It’s hard to know or even imagine in the aftermath of that fateful Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS. On the oversized stage it presents to the world in the playoffs and World Series, Major League Baseball giveth and it taketh away, as the careers of these two guys illustrate. You’d like to think Donnie Moore and Dave Henderson can finally talk about all that now in baseball heaven, where everyone hits .300 and the highest ERA is 2.75.