Gunnar Henderson Is the Antidote to Suffering Unless You Are a Baseball

Indignity Vol. 4, No. 82

Gunnar Henderson Is the Antidote to Suffering Unless You Are a Baseball
Gunnar Henderson of the Baltimore Orioles hits a home run against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 29, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)


ON A SPRING evening, when most of the day's work is settled, I like to tune in to a baseball game. If I do it in time to catch the first inning, Gunnar Henderson will be leading off for the Baltimore Orioles. Henderson, the Orioles' shortstop, is 22 years old—officially, Major League Baseball counts him as 23, because his birthday falls two days before the July 1 benchmark—but despite being born in the 21st century, he looks as if he fell off one of the baseball cards we'd buy at the High's store on the corner in the 1970s, with a weedy mustache and the slouchy poise of the stars I grew up watching.

It would be inane and not quite accurate to say that seeing Gunnar Henderson play baseball makes me feel young again. I am middle-aged and spend large chunks of the day thinking and writing about depressing and infuriating things, and nothing in a baseball game is going to reverse that. But for the span of an at-bat or an inning or even a few hours, lately, Orioles baseball can put me somewhere aside from it. 

There was a long time when Orioles baseball was depressing and infuriating in its own right. The team I'd followed all my life was effectively out of the business of playing baseball, operating instead as sort of a vessel for estate planning and family psychodrama as the wife and children of the debilitated billionaire owner Peter Angelos fought for money and control. The team lost games on purpose, year after year, with a roster aimed at the minimum possible payroll, made up of disposable nobodies and a handful of game but outnumbered young veterans. The star prospects who were supposed to be the team's future languished in the minor leagues, so they wouldn't start earning major-league service time. 

Now Peter Angelos is dead and the team has been sold to David Rubenstein, a new billionaire, but well before all of that, on August 31, 2022, in Cleveland, in the second at-bat of the first game of his major-league career, Gunnar Henderson swung at a 2–2 pitch in the fourth inning. The bat met the ball with a startling, resonant thwok; Henderson twisted clear out from under his batting helmet; and the ball landed 429 feet away, far over the right-center-field fence. Henderson was clean-shaven then but shaggy, and his hair bounced up and down as he ran around the bases. 

The gawkiness went away but the thwok remains. The sound of Henderson hitting the ball is qualitatively unlike the sound other batters produce; he won Rookie of the Year and the Silver Slugger at shortstop in his first full season, and he's second in the league with 12 home runs this year. 

The home run in Cleveland didn't turn the Orioles from losers to winners—that had happened three months earlier, when the team finally brought catcher Adley Rutschman up from the minors—but it expanded the possibilities. Rutschman was the No. 1 overall draft pick, a college superstar, and everyone always knew he would be good. Henderson was a high school kid who'd fallen to the second round, and now he was crushing baseballs while barely old enough to buy a beer.

There's no justice to baseball, thank goodness. The Orioles went into their most recent losing spell in 2018, after management made it clear that they had no intention of extending or re-signing Manny Machado, the fearless, slugging, cannon-armed third baseman who'd come up at age 19 and turned into a superstar at 20. Machado had been the best player on the best Orioles teams in a generation, and the team was officially too cheap to keep him.

A team might wait decades to develop another talent like Machado. But four years later, there was Henderson clobbering the ball all over the park, running the bases with ruthless speed, and making unlikely grabs and comically sizzling throws at third base and shortstop. The Orioles didn't deserve it.

What does it mean to deserve success? The Orioles ripped off fans for three years, playing grim, hopeless baseball to save the owners money and to save the front office the responsibility of building a decent roster each year on the cheap. When the young players were finally, belatedly given the chance to play, the lingering holes on the team kept them from making the playoffs. The next year—last season—they won 101 games, only to be swept out of the playoffs for lack of reliable starting pitching, the kind that costs money.

Management knew what it was doing, in the bad sense but also in the good one. The prospects they were drafting and stockpiling all those years alongside Henderson and Rutschman have grown into valuable major-leaguers and a Triple-A team in Norfolk absurdly backlogged with slugging talent. After wasting years of at-bats on major-league rejects, the front office suddenly started rescuing useful players from other teams' scrapheaps. Last year's turnaround won general manager Mike Elias the Executive of the Year award. 

Still, Elias' overall record is 341 wins and 407 losses. If this winning team is what management built, it's also testimony to what they squandered along the way. The team is complete and competitive, top to bottom. If you turn on the game, you'll probably see something worth watching, night after night. Every time Gunnar Henderson steps up to bat, it feels like something good is about to happen—as if the long odds of baseball are suddenly shortened in Baltimore's favor.

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New York City, May 13, 2024

★★★★ Peach dawn light made a promise that the cloud-hung morning took a while to deliver on. By midday, though, the sun was plentiful. The back was a near solid canopy of green, with the dogwood putting out its green and pointy flowers. A pigeon passed overhead in a long, plunging sunlit glide. Clumps of bird droppings dotted half of the top of the balcony wall at almost regular intervals. A faded crescent moon hung almost unnoticeably by the edge of a bright white cumulus cloud. A quick trip to the market turned into a stroll the long way around the block. An insect chirped a slow, insistent note somewhere in the darkeing greenery, under a still-bright sky.

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CLICK ON THIS box to enjoy today's Indignity Morning Podcast:

Indignity Morning Podcast No. 273: Justice doubling up.
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WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS in aid of the assembly of a sandwich selected from Mrs. Ericsson Hammond's Salad Appetizer Cook Book, by Maria Matilda Ericsson Hammond. Published in 1924, and now in the Public Domain and available at for the delectation of all.

Sandwiches Saumon fume aux Piments a la Roy
For Six Persons

Six slices of bread, three tablespoons of butter, two green peppers, one half pound of smoked red salmon, yolks of three eggs, cayenne pepper, and salt.

How to Make It. Slice the bread in even slices and cut it out with a large round biscuit cutter. Stir the butter to a cream and mix a little of the chopped salmon with part of the butter and spread on the bread. Sprinkle the sandwich with pepper; chop the green pepper very fine, also the salmon. Put some of the chopped salmon in the center of each sandwich the size of a nickel, then all around the salmon put an alternate row of green pepper and salmon in strips about half inch in length forming a star. Stir the yolks to a cream, mix it with the rest of the stirred butter. Through a ribbon tube put a band of it all around the sandwich joining the strips and on the edge of the sandwich put a row of chopped green peppers. In the center of the salmon put a round piece of truffle. Put the sandwiches in the ice-box and when cold drip carefully some cold aspic on the salmon. When ready to serve arrange them in the form of a ring and garnish with parsley. Serve as an appetizer for lunch or dinner.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to 

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Supplies are really and truly running low of the second printing of 19 FOLK TALES, still available for gift-giving and personal perusal! Sit in the gathering heat with a breezy collection of stories, each of which is concise enough to read before the sun gets high.

HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm DailyThe special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.

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