George Hendrick had the label “Can’t miss star” on him as he made his way through the minor leagues.
When his career ended, he was an All Star, played 18 seasons in the majors and won a pair of World Series rings along the way. By any standard, he did not miss.
Perceptions of Hendrick showing a lack of hustle, anger towards the media and falling short of his potential hounded him. How much of that was racial? How much of that was sky high expectations?
The Oakland A’s picked Hendrick from the high school fields of Los Angeles with the first pick of the 1968 winter draft. He was going to fit in with Rick Monday and Reggie Jackson and create a potentially dominant outfield for years to come.
In the A’s farm system, he mashed and looked like an all around offensive star. There was not a lot of room for him on the big league roster but he made a few call up appearances in 1971.
In 1972, after a brief time in Triple A Iowa, Hendrick was on Oakland’s roster for good. Rick Monday was dealt to bring in Ken Holtzman, but the rest of the A’s outfield was crowded. Joe Rudi and Reggie Jackson were mainstays Angel Mangual and Matty Alou got their at bats.
Hendrick did not exactly put up dynamic numbers in 1972. He batted .182 in 130 plate appearances and had only 6 extra base hits. He was used primarily as a defensive replacement and a pinch runner. But when Reggie Jackson tore his hamstring in Game 5 of the 1972 ALCS, Hendrick replaced him in centerfield. He scored the go ahead run in the game and caught the final fly ball to clinch the pennant.
He started 5 games in the World Series with Jackson sidelines and got a pair of hits and scored 3 times. The A’s would upset the heavily favored Cincinnati Reds, earning Hendrick’s first ring.
Despite not hitting very well during the 1972 season, Hendrick felt he had earned his spot on the big league roster. He bristled when in 1973 spring training, management considered sending him back to the minors.
The A’s acquired Billy North in the off season to play centerfield and eventually sent Hendrick packing to Cleveland in the deal involving Ray Fosse.
In Cleveland, he displayed his power on the big league level. He homered 21 times in 113 games in 1973. In 1974 and 1975, he represented the Indians in the All Star Game.
But he was not an open interview and was dubbed “Silent George” by the media. And some people thought his non chalant style of fielding showed a lack of effort.
After clashing with previous managers, Hendrick played well under Frank Robinson. With his value high, he was dealt to San Diego before the 1977 season. With the Padres, he had his best overall season, drilling 23 homers, batting .311 and seeing his OPS soar to a career high .873.
The honeymoon in San Diego ended in 1978 when the Padres signed Oscar Gamble. The team tried platooning them but in the end, someone had to go and it was Hendrick who was sent packing to St. Louis. The move worked out wonderfully for Hendrick.
Along with Ted Simmons and Keith Hernandez, Hendrick became part of an improving Cardinals attacj. He hit .302 with an .840 OPS, 25 homers and 109 RBI in 1980 and was named to the All Star Team and won a Silver Slugger Award. In 1982, he drove in 104 runs and the Cardinals made the post season for the first time since 1968.
In the tense World Series with Milwaukee, the Cardinals trailed in Game 7. They rallied and it was Hendrick who drove in the go ahead run.
Another All Star appearance and Silver Slugger in 1983 solidified his role in St. Louis. But in 1985, he was dealt to Pittsburgh for John Tudor. He only played 69 games there before heading to the California Angels.
He was part of the squad that came so close to the World Series in 1986. He was a non factor in the ALCS as the Red Sox came back to win. After partial seasons in 1987 and 1988, his career was over.
Hendrick had a reputation from the press for being an aloof selfish player. And yet he had a fine career with multiple All star appearances. He also has become a long time minor league manager and big league coach. He was the Lake Elsinore Storm manager in the San Diego organization and was a hitting coach for the Cardinals, Angels and Tampa Bay Rays.
A life time in baseball after multiple World Series titles and All Star Games is a career anyone should be satisfied with.