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  • Bill Chastain

Missing George

I happened to notice an “On this Date” item for April 30, 1975 — 40 years ago today — that mentioned George Hendrick.

Playing for the Indians at Fenway Park that day, Hendrick went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and two RBIs in an 8-1 win. Luis Tiant started for the Red Sox and Gaylord Perry the Indians.

The note interested me because George had been the Rays’ first-base coach since 2008 before moving on to a special adviser’s role with the team this year. Thus, I never see him any more.

George HendrickFor someone who was said to be surly and hated the media, George sure was friendly. And he had a million stories gathered from a distinguished major league career — he played from 1971 to 1988 after going to The Show at age 21 — and from things he did off the field. You wanted to listen to his stories, but you knew they were for entertainment purposes or background only. You never quoted him.

We talked almost daily during the baseball season, though I’m not sure if he ever knew my name. Nevertheless, I enjoyed George’s company and found the man fascinating.

Like when he talked about the wind at Candlestick Park. He said his team would be taking batting practice and when his turn to hit came, he allowed the wind to pin his glove to the chain-link fence until he returned after hitting.

He loved to play golf, so we talked about tournaments, players, and swing thoughts. Others told me he had played to a 1 handicap.

While a Los Angeles Lakers season ticket holder, he became friends with Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Magic Johnson among others and had been sitting court side when Kermit Washington’s infamous punch crushed Rudy Tomjanovich’s face.

Most of all I miss George’s sense of fun. He teased with everybody, loved to laugh, and nothing seemed to light him up more than the glow of a kid in the stands after he’d given him or her a baseball.

Funny how he’s remembered mostly for being the player who never talked to the media and the guy who wore his pant legs to his ankles before anyone else.

Nope, the ballpark just isn’t as fun without George Hendrick.

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