The A’s have a two-run lead. They are two innings away from their first World Series championship in 15 years. They are batting in the top of the eighth, with two runners on base.
Dave Henderson is at the plate.
Hendu has seen leads like this evaporate in the postseason before. His own homer off Donnie Moore. Bill Buckner’s error. Kirk Gibson’s homer. He was on the field for all of those improbable comebacks.
Hendu knows what’s at stake here. The A’s were leading 8-0 in this game, and now it’s 8-6. Those potential runs that are out there on first and second bases are very important. Driving those runs in, or not, could be the difference between a championship, and another agonizing defeat.
The Giants’ best reliever, Steve Bedrosian, is summoned from the bullpen to face Hendu. Hendu gets ahead in the count, 3-1, but then Bedrosian rears back and paints two blazing fastballs on the outside corner. Hendu fouls these perfect pitches off.
So here we are, a full count, with two outs. The runners will be going.
What does Hendu do?
Here’s what Hendu does: he yawns.
* * *
Dave Henderson passed away this weekend. He was only eight years older than me.
I’m about to turn 50. Unavoidably, my thoughts recently have been turning towards mortality. Before, when athletes my age or younger who have passed away, I could always find some thing about their deaths that I could dismiss as irrelevant to me. They had a genetic defect, or were freakishly large. They were addicted to drugs or alcohol. They played a violent sport where they repeatedly bash their brains against their skulls.
But I haven’t been able to shake off Dave Henderson’s death. Partly because he basically died of the kind of thing people die of when they die of old age: organ failure. It is hitting me now that death can come at any time now. It may come 50 years from now, but it may come in just eight. Or it may come tomorrow.
And I also have been unable to shake of Dave Henderson’s death because I loved the guy. If you were an A’s fan in the 80s and 90s, you loved, loved, loved Dave Henderson.
God, I loved Hendu. I miss Hendu.
* * *
My peak as an A’s fan corresponded to the years that Dave Henderson patrolled center field for the A’s, 1988-93. I must have gone to 30-40 games a year those years. And I always sat out in the left-center bleachers, between the two (unrelated) Hendersons, Dave in center and Rickey in left.
It was a wonderful time. Yes, it was a happy era because the A’s were a great team those years. But the joy also came from Dave Henderson himself.
There have been players before and since who acknowledge and are grateful for and interact with their fans. But I have yet to see a player who could rival Hendu to the degree in which he actually, genuinely liked his fans. At any time, before, during, and after any game, he was ready and willing to interact with the fans behind him in the outfield. He’d sit in the bleachers during batting practice sometimes. He’d go out to dinner with fans after a game. And there was always a lot of joking banter between pitches.
I particularly loved the start of the game. Hendu would come out at the top of the first inning to warm up with a big smile on his face. He’d take the ball out of his glove, and wave it over his head at us in left-center, and then to his two(!) groups of fans in right-center: Henduland and Hendu’s Bad Boy Club. And then Hendu’s Bad Boy Club would launch their “Hendu is a bad boy” chant, and the game was on.
It was a ritual that said to you, every game: isn’t this great? Isn’t this fun? Isn’t this life just a joy to be living?
We need more rituals like that.
* * *
“Are you happy, Daddy?”
My eight-year-old daughter asks me this question a lot. She is the closest thing I have seen to Dave Henderson since Dave Henderson. People who only intermittently interact with her often ask, “Is she ever not happy?”
Of course, I see her so much that I know that she is not always happy. She has her pet peeves that set her off, make her grumpy. But her default mode is happy. She is, by default, smiling, excited, happy to see you. She is quite popular as a result. Happiness is infectious.
* * *
My default emotion is not happiness. It’s…I don’t know…satisfaction? I’m satisfied. Things are fine. I’m calm. I’m OK. But happiness doesn’t come easily or naturally for me.
Satisfaction is not infectious. People don’t flock to other satisfied people. I will never be as missed when I am gone as Dave Henderson is. It just doesn’t work that way.
Why is that? Why are the Dave Hendersons of the world the exception and not the rule? Why was Dave Henderson extraordinary instead of ordinary? Why can’t we all be more like Dave Henderson, or my daughter, and be joyous all the time?
* * *
This is a Swedish short film called “The Egg“. It’s a beautiful film, which presents a lovely way to look at why there are so many different kinds of people in the world.
You don’t need to believe in the Hindu idea of reincarnation to appreciate what a beautiful idea this is. Perhaps I’m not capable of being as joyous as Dave Henderson, or my daughter, because my soul simply isn’t as mature as theirs is.
Which means we have a dual responsibility to each other: theirs is to lead by example, to give our souls something to aspire to become in our future lives. Ours is to not turn them backwards, to not drag them back down to our more unripened levels.
* * *
The Hindu religion presents four main aspects, or goals, of human life: kama, dharma, artha, and moksha. Now, I’m not Hindu, so this is not my religion, but I am a believer in finding the underlying truths of any religion, and translating them into a form that you can understand. As God said in the film above, every religion is true in its own way.
So let’s take these aspects of Hinduism, and translate them (sort of like what the Pixar short Sanjay’s Super Team did) into a form we can understand: what these concepts mean in a baseball context. And let’s pick Oakland A’s players to represent each of these concepts.
Let’s call this framework Henduism:
Kama represents our desire and longing for emotional, sensual and aesthetic pleasures. In Henduism, Kama is represented by Yoenis Cespedes.
Cespedes, when measured objectively, was never an all-star quality player with the A’s. His statistical results were perhaps slightly above average. He wasn’t a star hitter because he chased high fastballs too much, leaving him vulnerable to various forms of pitch sequencing. Defensively, he often took bad routes on fly balls, and sometimes clanked the balls that fell in his glove. He didn’t read pitchers very well on the bases, so he was a poor basestealer, despite his speed.
But oh my goodness, what a talent. In an A’s uniform, he was simply beautiful human being to watch, even in failure. If he dropped a ball in the outfield, he would often make up for it by launching a frozen rope to the next base as the player tried to advance. When rounding the bases, there was a spellbinding grace to his form when he ran with a full head of steam. And when his bat did make contact with the ball, the result was often the most majestic of home runs.
If there is a baseball equivalent of lust, Yoenis Cespedes induced that feeling.
Dharma is the quality of conducting yourself virtuously according to the the duties, rights, and laws of your society. In baseball terms, it means “playing the game the right way.” In Henduism, Dharma is represented by Mark Ellis.
Ellis spent nearly a decade in an A’s uniform, a rarity in the tenure of Billy Beane, who swaps players in and out like a card dealer flips over playing cards. In many ways, Ellis was the opposite of Cespedes. Ellis rarely did anything that tickled your aesthetic senses and made you say “Wow!” He was an ordinary-looking athlete of ordinary size and strength and speed. But in those ten years, I can probably count on my fingers the number of times Ellis made a mental mistake. He was always in the right place at the right time, making the right decision of where to be, of where to throw the ball or not throw the ball, of whether to take the extra base or to stay put.
You knew exactly what you were getting with Mark Ellis when you wrote him into the lineup. You could always rely on Mark Ellis, because he always played the game the right way.
Artha refers to the goal of reaching prosperity and success. In Henduism, Artha is represented by Rickey Henderson.
If the goal of baseball is to score runs, then nobody has achieved that goal more than Rickey Henderson. Rickey holds the all-time record for most runs scored in a career.
But there’s more to Rickey than that. Rickey was the full package. He could hit for average, he could work the count and get on base with a walk (OMG could he do that), he could hit for power (most home runs ever leading off a game), he could steal bases (single-season and career records in that, too), and he could play defense, too. As Bill James famously said, you could split Rickey in two, and you’d have two hall-of-famers. And he also won a couple of World Series, to boot.
If your goal is winning, and you were picking an A’s player in history to build your team around, Rickey would be your first pick.
The goal of Moksha is to make real the kind of the person you were meant to be. This can only follow from a liberation or release from the fears and burdens of everyday life.
Moksha is represented in Henduism by Dave Henderson.
* * *
“There’s not really much pressure when you’re supposed to make an out. And I guess I’m the only one who realizes that. So, I have a distinct advantage in that everybody else on the field is pressured, and I’m not.”
Dave Henderson would often do this in a tense situation in a ballgame. He’d take a step out of the batter’s box for a moment, and let loose a nice big yawn.
Then, relaxed, liberated by the yawn from the pressure of the situation, he’d get back into the batter’s box and face the battle before him, as the best possible Dave Henderson he could be in that moment.
There are those who do not believe in clutch hitters. But Dave Henderson hit .324/.410/.606 over the four World Series he played in. You may think that’s just the luck of the statistical draw. I do not. I think it was Moksha.
* * *
Most of us are broken in some way. We have fears, anxieties, scars, built up over years of heartbreak and abuse and neglect and failures. We build psychological walls around ourselves to protect ourselves from these problems. Mine are certainly lesser than others. I’m sure many, many people have scars far worse than mine, with much thicker walls built up around them.
But here I am: a child of divorce and alcoholism, who got sent to a different country in a different climate with a different culture and a different language just as I was hitting puberty. I developed some psychological walls around myself as a result. I think I fear success (Artha) a bit too much, because I feel like it could be too easily taken away from me. I’m afraid of Kama, too, of being too amazing and sexy and strong, because losing that would be too painful, too. So I hide inside Dharma, doing my duties, behaving properly, probably a bit too much. I miss out on the other connections I could have.
* * *
I think most baseball players, like most of us normal human beings, have their own fears and anxieties and scars. A baseball career is a fragile thing. One small mechanical hitch could be the difference between being in the majors and being out of baseball. One hit a week is the difference between an all-star and an also-ran. Is there time, is there energy, to risk making emotional connections to the whole wide world, when every moment, every play, is so critical to success or failure?
But then there was Dave Henderson. Hendu could yawn in the face of pressure. Hendu had accepted his vulnerabilities, and released himself from the fear of failure. And because of that liberation, he could afford to smile and wave to an audience who watched his every move. And through that smile, and that wave, he lifted an entire fanbase.
* * *
“Are you happy, Daddy?” The wise old soul inside my young little daughter looks into my eyes, and intuits that I have not reached Moksha. I am not quite the person I could be, because I have not released myself from my fears and inhibitions. And most of all, I have not allowed myself the freedom to release myself from my biggest fear of all: that I will somehow mess up this responsibility of fatherhood, that I will play the parenting game in the wrong way, that I will throw some unnecessary scars onto her, and set back her beautiful soul.
She won’t accept my unhappiness. She wants more from me.
“Come on, Daddy, ” she says, and grabs my hand. She pulls, and my inertia yields. She lifts me out of my chair. A smile starts to form on my face.
“Let’s go play!”