St. Louis Cardinals: Remembering ‘Silent’ George Hendrick’s impact

George Hendrick is one of the forgotten heroes of 1982. Nevertheless, his impact was essential for the St. Louis Cardinals’ ninth World Championship.

When we think of 1982 and the Cardinals’ ninth World Series championship, names such as Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Tommy Herr, Keith Hernandez, and Bruce Sutter come to mind. But often the name of George Hendrick isn’t mentioned by St. Louis Cardinals fans.

This should be surprising; after all, in 1982, he was the Cardinals’ home run and RBI leader while batting in the cleanup role. He led the lineup in slugging and was third in OPS, OPS+, hits, and total bases. Finally, he led the National League in sacrifice flies in 1982.

Hendrick provided the needed protection in the lineup for the third slot batter, Keith Hernandez, and allowed manager Whitey Herzog the flexibility to move several players in and out of the fifth spot as the game situation dictated.

In a recent piece at MLB.com, Anne Rogers named Hendrick as the fourth-best right fielder in St. Louis Cardinal history, behind Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, and Brian Jordan, and ahead of J.D. Drew.

As Rogers’ list shows, Hendrick was no flash-in-the-pan, one-year wonder in 1982. He was a good offensive weapon for the Cardinals during his entire six-plus years in St. Louis.

Hendrick’s arrival in St. Louis

The six-foot-three, 195-pound right-handed bat arrived in St. Louis in 1978 from a trade with San Diego. The Cardinals needed another bat in the lineup to protect Hernandez and Ted Simmons, while the Padres wanted to move an unhappy Hendrick. Hendrick was in a platoon in right field with Oscar Gamble and had asked to be traded. The Cards got Hendrick, and the Padres got a good pitcher in Eric Rasmussen. For details on the trade, Mark Tomasik of RetroSimba gives a good account.

Hendrick hit the floor running when he arrived in St. Louis. In 102 games in 1978, he hit a slash line of .288/.337/.497 with 17 HR and 67 RBI in just 102 games. Over the next three years, Hendrick continued to be a consistent contributor to the Cardinals offense, especially in 1980 when he hit a slash line of .302/.342/.498 with 25 HR and 109 RBI in 150 games.

He also earned his first of two All-Star appearances while in St. Louis and won the first of his two Silver Slugger awards as a Cardinal.

Hendrick and 1982

What Hendrick brought to the 1982 Cardinals was not only his 19 HR and 104 RBI, but also offensive consistency across the board. In his platoon splits, he hit .270 vs. right-handed pitchers and .305 against left-handed pitchers. Home vs. away? He hit .292 in the friendly confines of Busch Stadium and .270 away from home.

In the first half of the season, he hit .272, and in the second half, he picked it up and hit .292. He was especially hot down the stretch in September, hitting a slash line of .326/.364/.517. However, it was his clutch stats in 1982 that were so impressive. With two outs and runners in scoring position, he hit a slash line of .318/.408/.435.

Finally, in the 1982 postseason, Hendrick came through for the Cardinals against the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers. In three games during the NLCS against the Braves, he hit .308. Next, in the World Series against the Brewers, the 32-year-old California native hit .321 and had five RBIs, driving in the winning run in Game 7.

After ’82

Hendrick continued to be an important piece in the Cardinal lineup after 1982. In 1983, he hit a slash line of .318/.323/.493 with 18 home runs and 97 RBI. Hendrick also won his second Silver Slugger Award and made another All-Star appearance.

On Dec. 12, 1984, Hendrick was traded with catcher Steve Barnard to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher John Tudor and outfielder Brian Harper. Hendrick’s career continued with the California Angels, and he retired after the 1988 season.

Hendrick’s best years of his career were with the St. Louis Cardinals. In seven years, he had a .294 batting average, .815 OPS and 125 OPS+. But it was in 1982 when he made his biggest contribution while wearing the birds on the bat. Without “Silent” George Hendrick in the middle of the lineup, the ninth World Championship may have not arrived until 2006.

Some personal thoughts on the character of  ‘Silent George’

George Hendrick got his nickname, “Silent George,” because of his rare interviews with the media. He also had other nicknames, such as “Jogging George” and “Captain Easy” because of his perceived lack of hustle for not running out plays or hustling.

However, his character was never an issue in the clubhouse wherever he played, especially in St. Louis. His easygoing manner made him a good teammate by all accounts.

One person who would stand up for Hendrick’s character is journalist Lisa Nehus Saxon. Saxon was one of the first women to be an MLB beat reporter when she covered the Los Angeles Angels. She endured both physical and verbal abuse in the locker rooms.

One of the players she received constant abuse from was Reggie Jackson while she covered the Angels. In a 2014 interview with Vice Sports, Saxon relayed how Jackson would scream at her, tell her she was ugly, suggest she have sex with him, and refuse to do interviews with his pants on. It was Hendrick and pitcher John Candelaria she credits for stepping in and protecting her from Jackson’s constant abuse. If you haven’t heard Saxon’s story, please take the time to read the Vice interview.

Next: The Cardinals’ 29 greatest (and slightest) rivals

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Hendrick was more than a good player; he is also a truly decent human being.

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