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Mets Top 100 Home Runs: No. 10 in Regular Season: Steve Henderson and the Mets Magic

In 2009, I did a project for my website, Mets Walk-Offs and Other Minutiae, celebrating the best home runs in Mets history. I selected the top 60 regular season home runs and the top 15 postseason home runs. The reason I picked 60 was because it represented the top 1% of home runs in Mets history (and 15 just felt right for postseason).

This was fun to do, but it was imperfect. I had one egregious omission. I tended to favor oddities.

It’s time to give that project an update. And why not do it as a top 100?

The Mets have hit 7,671 regular season home runs. The top 80 represent about the top 1%. And the top 20 postseason home runs get us to an even 100 to celebrate.

Come along for the ride. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the reminiscing. Hopefully you’ll find it Amazin’. 

The rest of the list can be found here.

10. The Magic is Back (June 14, 1980 vs Giants)
Talk to the hard-core Mets fan who is around 50 or so in 2020 and chances are they’ll tell you that they have a special place in their heart for this game. To put it crudely, it’s the best home run from a crappy season in Mets history. I can tell you that it’s the only one among the top 18 home runs on this list to come in a losing year.

But what a home run it was.

I didn’t live this game, so it’s hard for me to fully articulate what it was like. I signed on for Mets fandom shortly thereafter and learned that to be a Mets fan from 1974 to 1983 was a pretty unpleasant experience. There was a little hope, but a lot of hopelessness. Over that 10-year period, the Mets played at a 70-win pace. The 1977, 1978, and 1979 seasons were particularly pathetic, especially after Tom Seaver was traded away (his return on Opening Day 1983 is the best moment of the 10-year span).

In 1980, Joan Payson’s family decided to sell the team, which was purchased by Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon (among others) for $21 million. There was hope in what was new and for a little while, there was hope for these New York Mets.

A look at the Mets record in 1980 will probably generate an ugh. But if you were to look at how some of those games were won, you’d probably go ohhhhhhhhh. The reactions have a gradual ascension from a 13-game homestand in early June in which the Mets repeatedly came-from-behind to win.

The Mets-Giants game from June 14, 1980 is the game that gets the loudest reaction. It was a memorable day for Steve Henderson for reasons having nothing to do with baseball. It’s the day he gave his future wife her engagement ring.

The Mets looked disengaged in the first inning however. The Giants scored four times, three on a home run by Rennie Stennett. They knocked Pete Falcone out with another run in the second.

Mark Bomback entered and became the unsung hero of the day, allowing one run in 4 2/3 innings to keep the game … um, close wouldn’t be right word, but … to make the Mets deficit only six runs.

The Mets didn’t record their first hit until the sixth inning against John “The Count” Montefusco. They scored one that inning, but Henderson stranded two with an inning-ending strikeout.

The Mets chipped away for one more run in the eighth (driven in by Henderson), knocking Montefusco out (Montefusco would say after the game that he hoped he’d be traded). But Greg Minton struck out John Stearns with the bases loaded to escape.

Minton attempted to close the game. He had 19 saves that season and got to within one out of one here. But then came the rally of all rallies. Lee Mazzilli singled in Doug Flynn to cut the Giants lead to 6-3. Frank Taveras walked and then Claudell Washington singled. Mazzilli scored to make it 6-4 and now the tying runs were on base. Henderson was the winning run at the plate.

Looking back 40 years later, I wonder how the next thing that happened came about. I’m referring to Giants manager Dave Bristol hooking Minton for Allen Ripley, he of 0 career saves and a penchant for giving up home runs the previous two seasons. But Ripley had pitched well (12 2/3 IP, 1 run) in three appearances, so I suppose that balances out my second guessing. Though I should note that Minton pitched 255 1/3 innings from 1979 to 1981 without allowing a home run.

Henderson had not hit a home run in 166 at-bats this season, thus rendering what happened next all the more improbable (“the odds were just amazing,” Bobby Murphy would say”). On 0-1, Ripley tried to come inside to Henderson and nearly hit him. Henderson ducked away.

After the game, Henderson said “That pitch knocked me down and when somebody does that to me, I get real mad. I turn into a monster.”

On the next pitch, Ripley did as he should have – he threw one outside that missed badly, making the count 2-1.

“I could just feel the guys in the dugout were waiting for me to hit a home run,” Henderson said when I talked to him in 2005. “I was known for ending games and they were counting on me to deliver.”

Ripley set things up perfectly with his 2-1 pitch, a fastball put on a tee, right down the middle. Henderson got a late swing, but it was one that had some muscle (the 51:56 mark here). The ball carried and carried into the right field bullpen for a walk-off three-run home run.

“The perfect end to a perfect day,” Pamela Henderson said.

Said manager Joe Torre: “They kept saying we couldn’t do anything more sensational, but here it is.”

After a big celebration at home plate, Henderson went into the dugout. There were multiple curtain calls for this home run(you can count the number of times that’s happened in Mets history on one hand). The next day, more than 50,000 people came to Shea Stadium on a Father’s Day Sunday. Several thousand were turned away because they couldn’t fit more than 46,000 in the park due to ballpark renovations. That was more than twice the crowd of Saturday night.

Simply put, at least for a little while this elicited the kind of reaction you would have expected from a win in 1986. As it turned out, it also annoyed their opponents. After the game, Stennett told reporters “That Mets magic stuff is bullbleep.” (yes, it said bullbleep)

What’s amazing is that the Mets weren’t even a .500 team. They were 27-28 but fans were so hungry for something positive that this became a touchstone win. And even after a disaster of a late-season run that led to them finishing 67-95, this remains a win that is cherished by fans of a certain age even now.

Want to hear the audio of the home run? Go to this link

My favorite stat: Henderson hit three walk-off home runs for the Mets. The first was his first career home run (against the Braves in 1977). The second was this one. The last was against Bruce Sutter and the Cubs on September 14, 1980. Each of the home runs was a three-run home run.

His three 3-run walk-off home runs are the most in club history.


Unknown said…
I was at this game! I'm so glad that you put it in your top 10, because it deserves to be there. Murphy's call of the home rum reflects what we all felt. My first reaction was "Oh no, a fly to right" then "it's carrying, maybe a double to tie the game", then "oh my god the right fielder is looking up and running out of room", then "HOME RUN!! NO WAY!!".
One thing that people forget to mention about that team was that they were 44-44. Then John Stearns broke a finger shortly thereafter, and they couldn't stop losing.

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