Dave Henderson: RIP

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This hurts.

Saw the immortal ALCS game in real time. Pops, a long-suffering Boston-born Sox fan, had seen this movie before (and would see it again in a fashion even his father wouldn’t fathom), and got up to fire up the grill for dinner before the epic 9th inning. I kept the faith, but didn’t call him inside until Baylor hit his blast. After that I said “You better get in here!” but, being an adult, and having seen this movie before, he was skeptical. I don’t think many fans can truly appreciate the real roller-coaster sports is capable of taking you on, but hardcore Sox fans, especially those of us who were around, then, “get” it like few others can. I mean, to go from the high of Hendu’s impossible shot to the ball dribbling between Buckner’s legs is like a lifetime of emotional extremes in two moments, only weeks apart. (Not to mention history repeating itself as Farce-turned-Miracle, a la ’03/’04.)

And as sorry as I felt for myself, for my father, for Sox fans, for the unfairly maligned Bill Buckner, and (ahem) would-be-MVP Hurst, I thought, even as a teenager: Holy shit, how do you go from hitting 2 of the 3 biggest HRs in Sox history and come THAT close only to have it ripped away from you. Hero for life, highlight reel for eternity, etc. It was enough to make a 16 year old think God was not only a sadistic son of a bitch, but a Yankee fan (the horror). I felt genuinely bad for Hendu, who deserved better. And someone else said something similar upthread, but while I detested those A’s teams in the late ’80s, I simply couldn’t hate Henderson. Wasn’t possible. I was happy he got his ring. And yes, I imitated that inimitable HR trot for many moons after.

RIP, Hendu.

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NOMAH! or, A Welcome Return for the Beantown Prometheus

Nomah.

No mas.

It’s fantastic to see Garciaparra, and the Red Sox brass, both burying the sharpened Louisville Slugger and letting No. 5 retire as a Red Sox. Hard to believe it now, but there was a time (about a decade ago) when two things seemed certain: Nomar was never leaving Boston and he was headed to the Hall of Fame. As we now know, injuries, declined production (with the bat and the glove) and a prolonged and excessively bitter break-up (first with the front office, then the team, then the town) made him merely a once-great player who put together a career most pros would kill to copy.

Here’s the thing that a lot of people, even some Red Sox fans (so of course I’m not counting the pink-hatted posers who decided it was cool to be a Sox fan circa 2004: it was cool, especially if you’d spent your previous life –and everything prior to 10/27/2004 was a previous life for any real Red Sox fan– on that peculiar rollercoaster, the one that took years and sometimes decades to get to the top and then, like Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff, would drop down into a fresh new Hell) may not recall: with the exception of Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez, Nomar didn’t just play for the Red Sox; he was not merely the star of the Red Sox; Nomar was the Red Sox.

In between the late ’80s and the early ’00s, the Sox sucked. Even teams that went to the playoffs weren’t really going anywhere. And everyone knew it (especially the other teams). Seriously. After 1986, there was not a single playoff run (if you can call one-and-done series runs) where I actually believed, much less hoped, that the Sox actually had a chance to win the World Series. Nevermind the whole “curse” thing; the teams were just never deep enough to scare anyone. Of course that changed in a big way in 2003 (that team could and should have won it all, but if they had not failed they very possibly would not have set themselves up to be such a solid team going forward, which seems more true than ever in hindsight, and is easier to swallow now that the team has claimed two world championships).

But before 2003, Nomar was it.

Don’t get me wrong, Pedro was GOD, but even Petey only played once every five days. In terms of the one steady presence that bridged the bad old days and the glorious postscript that is still unfolding, Nomar was the guy. (And real fans should realize the debt we owe these two, as well as Manny, can never be repaid or properly appreciated: these three players made the Red Sox a half-way respectable franchise for the first time, arguably, since the 1986 season, and never forget there were some ugly years in between the late ’70s and that season-that-almost-was.) These guys unified the fans and sold merchandise in the slowly, but steadily growing Red Sox Nation.

And here’s the thing: it wasn’t just that Nomar was our all-star. Certainly, that was great and he was a blessing that any franchise could covet. He was the real deal: he played hard and he played hurt, and nobody who knows anything about the game would argue that Nomah did not give 100% every single outing. Of course it’s a cliche, but the unfortunate fact of the matter is that those players are increasingly rare (outside of the NHL, anyway) and will elevate a franchise just like a team cancer can kill one.

He was, to use another inevitable cliche, discernibly old school. But he was also contemporary, and he had his signature quirk that endeared him for the ages. You remember the ritual. The whole OCD thing with the batting gloves. Needless to say, that compulsion became less cute once he stopped producing (but fortunately, he was already playing for other teams at that point!).

Yes, he was wary with the media, but trust me, if you had to deal with this douchebag every day, you’d be wary. And quite possibly violent. (And speaking of that shit-stirring punk, suffice it to say he lowered himself to the occasion and managed to be both petty and graceless regarding Nomar’s return.) Yes, he burned his bridges to get out of town, and that blew up in his face when he ended up having to watch the team he helped create make it to the promised land without him. Stop and think about that for a moment: we’re talking real Promethean type shit here. Every time he had to watch a replay of that final out on 10/27/2004, it was like that cosmic eagle taking another bite out of his liver. Just like every replay of Bucky Dent, or Bill Buckner, or Aaron Boone sent a psychic shock down the spine of every Sox fan…up until 10/27/2004. Can you say full circle?

The moral of the story? We are, of course, playthings of the Gods, and always have been. Batter up!

But all’s well that ends well. I’m not entirely sure what that even means, or is meant to mean. But I think it can safely be applied to situations like this. Nomar, having already been embraced by Boston (see video clip above), got to give hugs and smiles and transition into his new life as a broadcaster (yes, the same dude who once put red tape around his locker area to keep pesky reporters away; some might see hypocrisy, I choose to see irony –and a little irony never hurt anyone). I used to genuinely wonder, and worry, if Nomar had found (or could ever find) peace considering the way things ended. Fortunately, they had not yet ended. Now they have, and everyone can be happy.

And so I want to celebrate one of the best, most beloved and –in many ways– unappreciated players who patrolled the sacred grounds at Fenway.

Welcome home Nomah.

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