R.I.P. Bill Henry (1927-2014)

mabrowndog

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Dec 23, 2003
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The ex-Red Sox lefty died last week of a heart attack at age 86 in Round Rock, Texas.
 

 
A native of Pasadena, Texas, where he was a multi-sport star in high school, Bill started his pro baseball career in 1948. He was playing for Shreveport in the Texas League when the Red Sox acquired him prior to the 1952 season. His major league debut, on April 17 in Washington, was an 8-inning start where he allowed just 2 runs on 5 hits to earn the victory over the Senators. His next three starts were all complete-game wins at Fenway. While with Boston for four seasons, his workload was split between starting and relief, as he threw the first pitch in 42 of his 75 appearances, completing 13 games.
 
He threw 2 shutouts for the Sox: 7/24/1953 against the Browns in their final year in St. Louis (where he also tripled home a pair of runs), and 5/31/1954 at Fenway vs the Philly A's. (where he again knocked in two runs with a single and an RBI ground-out). Nonetheless, control problems plagued him during his Boston tenure, as he walked 139 batters in 318 innings (3.9/9IP) while striking out just 140. 
 
For whatever reason, Henry pitched all of 1956 for Boston's PCL affiliate in San Francisco. Following the season the Sox traded him to the Cubs for 1B Frank Kellert, who'd never play a game for Boston. Chicago had Henry pitch yet another year in the minors, and he wouldn't appear on a major league field again until 6/14/1958, by which time he was 30 years, 8 months old. But the Cubs had also made the fortuitous decision to make Bill a full-time reliever, a role he'd flourish in.
 
In two seasons with Chicago, Henry logged a 2.75 ERA over 109 games (including an NL-leading 65 in 1959) along with a 4.0 K/BB (striking out 20% of batters faced) while holding opponents to a .222/.263/.371/.634 line. The Cubs then packaged him to the Reds in a deal for 3-time All-Star Frank Thomas. Henry himself would make the NL All-Star team in 1960, and a year later he'd pitch in the World Series against the Yankees. Things started well for him in that Fall Classic, whiffing Kubek & Maris in Game 4, then pitching a scoreless 3rd inning in Game 5. That was before getting hammered for 5 ER in the 4th inning of Game 5, including a 3-run blast by Hector Lopez.
 
Bill remained with the Reds until early in the 1965 season, when as a 37-year-old he was dealt to the Giants. He'd stick around the majors for parts of 16 seasons, pitching for the Pirates in 1968 and closing out his career with the Astros in 1969 at age 41. He finished 46-50 with a 3.26 ERA and a 621/296 K/BB. 
 
Nearly four decades later, Henry would unwittingly gain nationwide celebrity after an obituary in a Lakeland, Florida newspaper announced his death in 2007. A Boston SABR member, David Lambert, contacted his "widow" Betty Lou, not in Florida but in Texas, to express his condolences. Not only was she stunned by his stated reason for calling, but Bill was right there in the living room with her and got on the phone to assure Lambert he was indeed alive and well.
 
Turns out the deceased was born Clarence William Henry Jr., but had for decades represented himself to family and friends -- including his own wife -- as the ex-ballplayer. His lies had carried over to hobnobbing with Sparky Anderson and other old-timers at Spring Training games. The men had been of similar height and appearance, and both were lefties. The guy had pulled off the hoax right to the very end. A local paper in Lakeland got wind of the ruse, and shortly thereafter Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly made the story his weekly back-page feature piece.
 

Flynn4ever

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Thanks for the history lesson mabrowndog, they are always better with a twist at the end and that was a great one! I'm personally fascinated by the tales of good not great major leaguers. I'll attribute that to being the son of a 70's Mets fan with your Rusty Staubs, Dave Kingmans and Jon Koosmans. God knows the Sox have had plenty of the like.
 

bigyazbread

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He was an original Seattle Pilot as well...sort of.  He went to spring training, and when he was told that he made the team, he promptly retired, presumably to keep from blocking a younger player from getting to the show.  That reasoning doesn't seem to hold much water, as he did appear later in 1969 for the Astros as dog mentioned.
 

mabrowndog

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Dec 23, 2003
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Here's Henry in Pilots gear from March of '69:
 

 
 
And here's an article from April 1 of that year on the Pilots setting their opening day roster, including Henry: