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Prince Joe Henry

"“Five times I faced Satchel...he struck me out four times!”
---Prince Joe Henry"

--from "I Never Will Forget" by Brent Kelley


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Negro Leaguer of the Month

April, 2008

Prince Joe Henry


Born: October 4, 1930 in Brooklyn, Ill.
Died: January 2, 2009
Ht:6'-0", Wt: 185
Batted left, and threw right
Position: second base, third base
Playing Years: 1951-59
Teams: Memphis Red Sox, Indianapolis Clowns, Detroit Stars, Detroit Clowns, Goose Tatum's Stars

Prince Joe Henry entered the Negro Leagues at the tail end of its heyday, just in time to be a part of something special, and was one of the last true “showmen” of the league.

Henry grew up in Brooklyn, Illionois (aka Lovejoy), which is considered the oldest “black town” in the United States, as it was populated almost exclusively by blacks--it’s still more than 98% African-American.

Henry didn’t play baseball as a youngster, but did play fast pitch softball, and was so good that he was quickly discovered by Negro League veteran catcher, Josh Johnson, who engouraged him to play baseball. Henry did, and as a teenager played frequently against Elston Howard, who was playing sandlot ball “across the bridge” in St. Louis, Missouri.

Henry’s talent became widely known, and he was soon scouted and signed by Goose Curry, ex-Negro League star and Memphis Red Sox manager. Before he played his first game with the Red Sox, Henry barely knew the Negro Leagues existed.

Henry got his feet wet in pro baseball when he attended Curry’s black baseball school in Mississippi, and when he “graduated” he was soon playing alongside the last few surviving Negro Leaguers.

Though Satchel Paige, Double Duty Radcliffe, and Cool Papa Bell were on their way out, there were still plenty of good players left in the league, including Ernie Banks, Neil Robinson, and Sherwood Brewer.

In 1950, Henry’s Memphis Red Sox faced the Chicago American Giants with Satchel Paige (between stints in the Majors), and Double Duty Radcliffe (pitcher-catcher-manager). Henry’s manager, Curry, had built up Henry to Paige, claiming he couldn’t strike out his new slugging rookie....Paige, probably around 50 years old, struck Henry out four times and got him to ground out the fifth time! After each strikeout, Paige “woofed” at Curry, teasing him that youngsters were no challenge to the best pitcher who ever lived!

Henry, a fine third baseman, was a fan favorite because of the flair with which he played, and one odd habit: on routine grounders, Henry would field the ball, sprint toward first, then stop and throw the ball to first just in time. In reality, Henry did this to make the throw shorter, but to fans it appeared he was trying to beat the runner to first!

Henry often played while wearing a tuxedo and tails, and also claims to have originated the idea of standing at home plate and admiring a long homerun long before Reggie Jackson ever thought of such a thing.

Henry played three years in the Negro Leagues before he was signed to play in the Minor Leagues.

In 1952, Henry played with Canton in the Mississippi Ohio Valley League, hitting .303 with 9 homers, 15 doubles, 4 triples and 43 RBIs in 89 games. In ‘53, Henry played with Mount Vernon, batting .275 with 12 doubles, 4 triples, 3 homers, and 30 RBIs in 92 games. However, Henry sustained several injuries that kept him from being a Major League prospect, so back to the Negro Leagues he went, even as the league was on its last few breaths of life.

Henry played well enough to be selected to the East-West All-Star game in 1958 representing the Detroit Stars, and he later played with the Detroit Stars, teaming with the Harlem Globetrotters’ basketball star Goose Tatum.

Unfortunately, Henry’s story since retiring as a player has been bittersweet. When the Major Leagues finally started paying Negro Leaguers a pension for time served in the late 1990s, Henry was denied any money because the small amount of money he collects from social security exceeds his $1000 per month expenses (by a few dollars).

Henry passed away in Brooklyn, Illionois on January 2nd, 2009.

_______

(some information from "Black Baseball's National Showcase," by Larry Lester and "I Never Will Forget," by Brent Kelley)

 


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