The son of a carpenter, Jim Henry appeared set for life as a textile worker in the cotton mill in Danville, Virginia. James Francis Henry was born there on June 26, 1910. His parents were James E. and Blanche Henry, both native Virginians. He was one of at least four children – Phyllis first, then himself, Julian, and Eunice. At the time of the 1930 census, Jim was turning 20 and listed as "textile worker, cotton mill."
Jim went to the Stonewall Jackson Elementary School on North Main Street in Danville for eight years, then to George Washington High School for four more. He'd been a first baseman in high school until one day he was asked to pitch and struck out the first three batters he faced. Danville won the state's high-school championship, beating Norfolk High with a 4-0 four-hitter for the flag.1 Henry graduated in 1929, then worked in the cotton mill.
It was baseball that brought him other opportunities. Henry was a right-handed pitcher whose first professional baseball came in 1932. He was active through the 1940 season. He was 6-feet-2 and listed at 175 pounds.
Henry pitched in the summer of 1931 for a semipro team at Crewe, Virginia, under manager Hal Weafer.2 He was signed by the Hartford Senators in 1931, after he had "showed his stuff" to Hartford manager Charlie Moore on the Senators' last visit to Richmond, Virginia, that year. "What he showed Moore last fall at Richmond convinced Charlie that Henry could be well worth taking to Macon for a longer trial."3 Henry reported to Macon in March 1932 for spring training.
In a game against the Macon team on April 1, Henry pitched the first five innings without giving up a run. "He had terrific speed and great difficulty locating the plate," wrote the Hartford Courant; he walked five but gave up just one hit.4
Henry first played for the Hartford Senators (Class-A Eastern League) and one of the first mentions in the newspaper came when he hit two balls over the fence in Richmond during a 6-4 loss on June 6. Because of a ground rule, both balls counted only as doubles.5 Henry appeared in eight games (three starts) and was 0-2 for the season. He threw 36 innings, giving up 34 hits and walking 30.
In 1933 Henry pitched for the Charlotte Hornets in the Class-B Piedmont League. He was 5-11 in 26 games, but cut down on the number of walks and was invited back for 1934. In five games he was 0-2, but was sold outright to the higher-classification Memphis Chicks (Single-A Southern Association) on May 21. As he departed, the Charlotte Observer wrote that he had "plenty of stuff, but has never been a consistent winner for Charlotte. Many believe he is an excellent prospect and, with a little careful training, would be valuable in any circuit."6 In 17 games for Memphis under manager Doc Prothro, Henry was 4-5 with a 3.89 earned-run average.
In 1935, after a slow start, Henry developed into a very good performer, winning 19 games (against 13 losses) with a 3.02 ERA. The Chicks finished third in both 1934 and 1935, the 1935 season under manager Fred Hofmann.
On September 6, 1935, GM Eddie Collins of the Boston Red Sox announced that the club had purchased Henry, who would report for duty at Sarasota in the spring of 1936. The Boston Herald reported that "he was recommended by scout Bib Falk of the Sox so Collins later stopped off and saw Henry win a ball game. Collins also put his OK on the young man."7
Henry's debut in the big leagues was a four-inning relief stint on April 23 in Philadelphia. He allowed just two hits in the four innings, facing only one batter over the minimum. He himself was 1-for-1 at the plate. On April 29 he came into a game at Fenway Park that the Red Sox were losing 7-6 and again allowed just two hits, in 2? innings, while seeing his teammates score the tying run in the bottom of the eighth and the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. That secured Henry’s first major-league win. Again, he had one at-bat, and singled.
Henry’s second win was a complete-game 6-2 five-hit win in Philadelphia in the second game of the Memorial Day doubleheader. He walked five batters in the first four innings, but settled down. He was coming off a May 28 relief stint against the Yankees in which he'd faced one batter and walked him, after throwing a wild pitch that was so wild that two baserunners scored.
Henry relieved some and started some, and by July 5 had a 5-0 record, with a 3.42 ERA. On August 3 he was sold to the Minneapolis Millers. He started eight games in 10 appearances for Minneapolis; he posted a record of 6-3 despite a high 6.41 ERA.
Henry came back to Boston on September 12. His only other decision with the Red Sox was a loss on September 25 when he started but lasted only two innings, giving up four runs. He finished the season 5-1 (4.60). On November 25, he married Maverine McEwen.
Manager Joe Cronin thought Henry was a solid prospect and that the time in Minneapolis had improved him considerably.8 Henry started the 1937 campaign with the Red Sox, but did not appear in any games before being sent to Minneapolis again on May 5. He started 32 games for the Millers, and worked in four others in relief. He had another high earned-run average (5.84) with a 14-11 record. In September the Red Sox brought him back to Boston. His one decision came in a September 23 start against visiting Detroit that resulted in a 4-3 complete-game win. Two other appearances followed. After two seasons with the Red Sox he had a 6-1 record but an ERA of 4.71.
Minneapolis was Henry’s destination again in 1938; he was optioned to the Millers by the Red Sox on April 1. He appeared in 32 games (19 starts) with a record of 7-9 (5.39 ERA). On September 10 the Red Sox sold his contract to the Philadelphia Phillies.
In 1939 Henry made the Phillies and appeared in nine April and May games, going 0-1 in 23 innings with a 5.09 ERA. On June 1 the Phillies released him to Memphis. Back with the Chicks once more, Henry was 5-9 in 1939 with a 5.66 ERA. He began 1940 with Memphis but on May 24, his contract was sold to the Meridian Bears (Southeastern League). He finished his career there, with a 13-10 record and a 3.61 ERA in 1940.
After baseball, Henry became a retail furniture salesman for the Rhodes Jennings firm and then Goldsmith's Oakcourt, both in Memphis.
Henry died, after a three-month battle with cancer, on August 15, 1976 in Memphis. He was survived by his wife, Maverine, and their son Mike. His brother and two sisters also survived him, as did two grandchildren. Maverine Henry was contacted by baseball historian Bill Haber in December 1977 and wrote back that she wished he would better inform the public of her late husband's passing. "It would keep fans from writing for autographs," she wrote. "I receive some almost every week and it's hard for me to answer them. His death was such a loss to me and our son and family. We remember his baseball days with many fond memories."9
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Henry’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 "Hornets of 1934: Jim Henry," Charlotte Observer, April 27, 1934: 19.
3 Albert W. Keane, "Two More Rookie Pitchers Added To Hartford Squad by Charlie Moore," Hartford Courant, February 21, 1932: C2.
4 Albert W. Keane, "Jim Henry And Roger Hanlon Pitch Senators To 10 to 1 Victory Over Macon," Hartford Courant, April 2, 1932: 13.
5 "Colts Beat Hartford, Tie Rifles for First," Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, June 8, 1932: 13.
6 "Hornets Sell Jim Henry To Memphis Chickasaws," Charlotte Observer, May 22, 1934: 18.
7 "Sox Buy Pitcher Henry," Boston Herald, September 7, 1935:
8 James C. O'Leary, "Henry, Gaffke Sign Contracts," Boston Globe, January 27, 1937: 23.
9 Mrs. James F. Henry, handwritten response to Bill Haber on his letter dated December 12, 1977, and kept in the Jim Henry player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.