A few months ago, I went in early to work to print off a story I wrote on Billy O’Dell for BaseballSavvy.com. I promised the former San Francisco Giants pitcher I would mail him a copy of the “Where Are They Now?” piece he inspired, and after too many years of making these promises to sources and not following through, I’m trying to do things differently. Thus, I found myself at the office printer, waiting for my story to print, and I encountered the CEO of the company renting space to my employer. We got to talking, and the CEO said he was friends with another former Giant, Ken Henderson. A few months later, I have a story on Henderson live at Seamheads.com.
The CEO introduced me to Henderson when he stopped by the office in June, and a couple weeks later, Henderson and I did a 30-minute phone interview. Henderson was gracious enough to call me back after I went to transcribe my interview and found my tape recorder had picked up virtually nothing he said. In fact, Henderson ultimately called me back multiple times, since the first time he reached me I was working, and the second time, the batteries in my alternate recorder were dead. Henderson was one of the more patient ballplayers I’ve encountered.
I focused my story on something I had read in a Giants book I have which described how early in Henderson’s career, reporters hyped him as the next Willie Mays. Of course, that didn’t pan out. Henderson was happy to discuss this and more with me. In fact, I wound up with more good material than what made my final edit. Some good extra bits which I’ll offer here include:
- Henderson told me two of the toughest pitchers he faced were Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson. I looked at Henderson’s career splits against both Hall of Fame hurlers on Retrosheet.org. A switch hitter who favored the left side of the plate, Henderson batted right-handed against the southpaw Carlton and only got three hits in 33 at-bats lifetime, though interestingly, two of those hits were home runs. Also, Henderson hit .304 lifetime against Gibson, though I think that may have been news to him.
- Henderson said one of the things he learned from Mays was the importance of being in good position in the outfield ahead of time. Henderson said other outfielders may have made more spectacular catches, but that was only because they were further out of position at the start of a play and had to sprint to get to the ball. Mays knew better. A friend told me today that Andruw Jones does too.
I love doing these types of stories. On a side note, Henderson works with my all-time favorite player, Will Clark, who I missed on a chance to interview this winter. I put out to Henderson that I’d still like to talk to Clark. We’ll see where this leads.