Nov 18, 2012

Late Seventies Mets Outfielder & Key Player In the Tom Seaver Trade: Steve Henderson (1977-1980)

 
Steven Curtis Henderson was born on November 18, 1952 in Houston, Texas. He attended Prairie View A &M in Texas, getting drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the fifth round of the 1974 draft as a promising outfielder. He batted .312 with 17 HRs & 61 RBIs at AA ball Trois Rivieres in 1976. The next year he was batting .326 after 60 games at AA Indianapolis, but wasn’t much room on the Big Red Machine in the mid seventies for a young player in the minors.

On June 17th 1977, Henderson became famous for being the key player in the Tom Seaver trade on what Mets fans call “The Midnight Massacre”. Henderson along with Pat Zachary, Doug Flynn, & Dan Norman went to the New York Mets for Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. There was a lot of hype and big expectations put on the young Henderson by the organization trying to make the Seaver trade look somewhat justified. Henderson & not many other players could ever have lived up to those expectations.

In his first career game on June 16, 1977 he pinch ran for Ed Kranepool and ended up scoring the game's winning run, as Mike Vail reached on an error in the 7th inning. In his first career at bat later that game, the Shea fans gave him a standing ovation. Henderson recalls: “I was so nervous, I swung at one ball, and it hit the ground. When I struck out I got another standing ovation, how embarrassing”. The next night he got the start in left field batting in the third spot. In his first at bat he got a base hit off Floyd Bannister & ended up 2-4 on the night.

On June 21st he came in as a defensive replacement for Kranepool once again, this time in the top of the 11th inning. He ended up hitting a dramatic three-run walk off HR against the Atlanta Braves Don Collins in a 9th inning at bat. The small Shea crowd went wild, as Steve in just his fourth career game, brought some excitement to a bad baseball summer at Shea Stadium. In July he had a streak hitting safely in 18 of 22 games raising his average to .313 by the end of the month. In a five game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates in July, Henderson had five hits in back to back games with a HR & 3 RBIs on July 16th. The next day in the second game of a double header Henderson finished off the series with a grand slam HR & a five RBI day. Over his first month and a half in the big leagues, Henderson had seven HRs & 32 RBIs.

During a stretch going into the first week of September he hit safely in 20 of 25 games, even getting two hits when the Mets faced off against Tom Seaver in his return to Shea Stadium wearing a Reds uniform. There was hope for a bright future for the young Henderson, on a team that desperately needed something. Mets announcer Ralph Kiner even drew a comparison to New York Giants legend Mote Irvin.

He finished runner up in the Rookie of the Year voting to Andre Dawson, batting .297 while leading the team with 12 HRs (tied) & 67 RBIs. He hit 12 doubles with 6 triples 65 RBIs 43 walks a .372 on base % & 67 runs scored in just 350 at bats . His quiet personality was sometimes mistaken as him being arrogant which wasn’t the case.


Pitchers tested him early, by throwing at him and knocking him down. He hung in there and wasn’t intimidated easily. In the off season the Mets sent him to Tampa to work with the legendary Willie Mays on his defense. Mays taught Steve about the game & how things worked, especially in New York. Mays even got him a five year merchandizing glove deal with McGregor worth $3,500.


In 1978 he started out the season on a tear, in the first week he hit three HRs with 11 RBIs. On April 9th in the first game of a home double header, Henderson hit a grand slam HR off the Montreal Expos Darold Knowles, leading the Mets to a 6-5 win. He slowed down as his average fell to under .200 by the start of May. He had a big month with a dozen multiple hit games & drove in fourteen runs in the first three weeks. On May 18th after a stretch of driving in runs in five straight games, he had a four hit game against the Atlanta Braves. In the bottom of the 11th inning, Henderson singled off Eddie Solomon driving in Lenny Randle with the walk off game winner.

On May 21st Henderson delivered again with a game winning hit, doubling off former Met Tug McGraw to score Lee Mazzilli. In June Henderson tied up a game against the San Francisco Giants with an 8th inning base hit off Bob Knepper. He advanced on a wild pitch then scored the winning run on a Willie Montanez single.

In the last five games of June he drove in six runs but then only drove in nine runs all of July. Beginning on July 5th, he hit safely in 22 of 27 games and was one of the brightest spots on Mets team that finished last 66-96 under Joe Torre.Henderson went on a two month HR drought from late July to late September.

1978 was a little disappointing since he wasn’t becoming a superstar that the Mets had hoped, but he still had some solid offensive numbers. He played in 157 games but only hit .266, while leading led the NL in grounding into double plays (24) & striking out 109 times. He hit just 10 HRs, with 30 doubles 65 RBIs & a .333 on base %. On the bright side he tied a club record with nine triples, & led the team in hits (156) & runs scored (83). In left field although he made 11 errors (most in the NL) he was second with 20 assists & with put outs (310).

In 1979 he started out hot again, driving in two runs with a double in the Mets 10-6 win at Wrigley Field. In the first eight games he had thirteen hits & five RBIs. When the Cubs came to Shea in May, Henderson had five hits driving in a run in each game, of a double header split. On May 26th, in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates he came to bat with New York behind 8-7.

He then hit a two run HR off one of the top relievers, Kent Tekulve to put the Mets ahead on their way to a win. The next month on June 30th, the Mets broke a game open in the top of the 11th inning at Wrigley Field. Henderson tripled driving in two runs on the way to a 9-8 Mets win, as the bullpen almost blew it in the bottom of the inning.

In July he a five game, nine game & six game hit streak raising his average up to .300. Over a four game stretch in the middle of the month, he drove in six runs during a five game win streak. He helped the team with a two run HR in the first game of a double header & his RBIs were the difference in two run games that week. At the end of the month his season was cut short with an injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season, except one pinch hit appearance on September 25th. In dramatic fashion, he pinch hit in the top of the 11th inning at Wrigley Field, in a 3-3 game & then singled off Dick Tidrow scoring Dan Norman with the game winning run.

For the '79 last place Mets (63-99) he was limited to only 98 games, batting .306, with 16 doubles eight triples, five HRs 35 RBIs & a .380 on base % (second on the club to Lee Mazzilli), all in just 350 at bats. In left field his strong arm got him 18 more assists & he led all NL left fielders in fielding % (.990).

In 1980 he began the year hitting safely in 12 of the first 15 games. From June 5th through June 8th he drove in seven runs, including an 8th inning base hit tying up a game against the Pirates on June 7th. The Mets won it in extra innings. On June 28th in Philadelphia, Henderson's 9th inning single won the game against the Phillies as he scored Lee Mazzili from third base.

On July 5th he drove in three runs & hit a two run HR to help beat the Montreal Expos 7-5 at Shea Stadium. On July 15th he hit two HRs in Atlanta, driving in four runs while leading the Mets to a 9-2 victory. On August 1st he hit a three run HR off Houston’s Dave Smith tying the game in which the Mets would later rally and win. He was batting over .300 up until the end of August.

Maybe his most dramatic hit of the year came on September 14th at Shea Stadium. In the bottom of the 9th inning, with the Mets behind the Chicago Cubs 7-6 facing ace reliever Bruce Sutter, Henderson delivered with a three run walk off HR scoring Lee Mazzilli & Joel Youngblood. It was one of the biggest thrills of the dismal year for the Mets, thrilling whoever was left of the crowd of 10,000.

On the season he led the 5th place Mets in hitting (.290) in stolen bases (23) & triples (8) which was ninth most in the league. In 147 games he hit eight HRs with 13 doubles 58 RBIs & a .360 on base %.

In February of 1981 Henderson was traded to the Chicago Cubs for the second coming of Dave Kingman to New York. In his first season at Wrigley Field he batted .293 with 5 HRs & 35 RBIs in 82 games of the strike shortened season. After hitting .233 the next year he was sent to the Seattle Mariners and had a solid 1983, hitting .294 with 32 doubles 10 HRs & 54 RBIs. He went to the Oakland Athletics as a free agent, playing as a fourth outfielder behind Dwayne Murphy, Mike Davis & Dave Collins in 1985 batting .301 (85 games).

In 1986 he struggled batting just .077 in 11 games & spent time back in the minors where he hit .288 at AAA Buffalo. The following season he batted over .300 at AAA Tacoma & returned to Oakland to hit a solid .289 in just 46 games. In 1988 he then went to play out his last season in Houston with the Astros.

In a 12 season career Henderson played in 1,085 games (3,484 at bats) batting .280 with 976 hits, 68 HRs, 428 RBIs, 162 doubles, 49 triples, 459 runs scored, with a .352 on base %. In the outfield he posted a .969 fielding % in 898 games. As a left fielder he made 52 errors (48th most all time) playing in 856 games with 1635 put outs (74th all time) & 70 assists (52nd all time).

Retirement: Henderson coached with the Houston Astros from 1994-1996. He was the Hitting coach for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in their inaugural season, and then he served as their minor league hitting coordinator. He returned to the Rays in 2006 as the big league clubs hitting coach taking them to the 2008 World Series.

He was let go after the 2009 season & later coached in the Phillies minor leagues. He also worked in the Pirates (1990-1993) & Astros organizations, serving as hitting coach in 1995 & 1996.

In 2006 he also earned a degree in Multimedia and Political Science. Steve has also been on hand for past Mets Fantasy Camps.

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