Ken HendersonJuly 10, 2008
The decade in question here at Cardboard Gods may have been the golden age of the switch-hitter. Consider the 1970s all-switch-hitter team:
Ted Simmons, C
Eddie Murray, 1B
Bump Wills, 2B
Larry Bowa, SS
Pete Rose, 3B
Roy White, LF
Ken Henderson, CF
Reggie Smith, RF
Ken Singleton, DH
You’ve got one Hall-of-Famer at first, one would-be Hall-of-Famer at third, a catcher with better numbers than many of the catchers in the Hall of Fame, a gold-glove-winning all-star at shortstop, and three excellent, underrated run-producing machines (Singleton, Smith, White). Some would likely argue that Bump Wills is the most obscure member of this team, but to me he always stood out, mainly because of his name, but also because he was the son of a renowned major leaguer, had a notoriously odd baseball card, and was, during my most impressionable years, considered to have the potential to be an up-and-coming star. And he actually wasn’t bad for a few seasons in the late seventies, which happened to be the same time Ken Henderson, my choice as the least known of the all-1970s switch-hitting team, was bouncing from team to team, making little impact anywhere. The card here shows him just beyond the turning point in his career, when he went from a good young player with an admirably well-rounded game to an aging cigarette-ad fugitive gaping out at the action with a bat dangling limply from his fingers. He wears the first of six uniforms he would don over the next six years, never lasting beyond a season anywhere. He was the most itinerant of the members of the 1970s switch-hitting all-stars, and so in a way he’s the most fitting representative of that decade of often senseless transience.
And since talking about the 1970s without talking about the preceding decade would be like talking about a morning hangover without mentioning the party the night before, it should be mentioned that Ken Henderson in some ways epitomized the 1960s, too. In that earlier epoch he had been brimming with seemingly limitless possibilities, breaking into the major leagues with the Giants in 1965 as a 19-year-old would-be successor to Willie Mays. With that in mind, here’s another list in which Ken Henderson’s name again seems to be the most obscure.
Young San Francisco Giants outfielders, 1970s:
In the 1970s, as it became clear that no new utopias were going to spring to life out of sheer visionary ecstasy, and for that matter that no one would ever replace Willie Mays, everyone seemed to suddenly start growing older in bursts. Skin that had long been unblemished suddenly became slacker, creased, faintly greasy. Mustaches were grown, Marlboros lit, aviator shades donned. Throughout the land it became increasingly difficult to tell what people were thinking, in part because of the tinted eyewear, in part because the thinking itself, once so sure of itself, had unraveled into the uncertainty of a switch-hitter who has lost the ability to hit from either side of the plate.