Answers with "Prince" Joe Henry (Complete)

The place where GRB members interview baseball authorities.
GRB Founder
Posts: 35358
Joined: December 31 69, 6:00 pm
Location: Chicago, IL

Answers with "Prince" Joe Henry (Complete)

Post by Michael »

I am pleased to announce that we have our first round of answers with former Negro League All-Star, "Prince" Joe Henry.

A very special thank you to "Prince" Joe Henry for taking the time out of his schedule to answer questions. As you'll see throughout this interview he's a very interesting and intelligent person. I would also like to thank Joe's grandson, Sean, for coordinating the interview.

Another big thank you to Tambourine Man for doing all the work with this interview. His dedication to bringing this important piece of history to GRB has been amazing.

Here's a little bit about the "Prince's" background:


Image Image

Memphis Red Sox 1950-52 (NAL)
Indianapolis Clowns 1955 (NAL)
Indianapolis Clowns 1955-56 (IND)
Detroit Clowns 1957-58 (IND)
Detroit Clowns 1958 (NAL)
Detroit Stars 1958-59 (NAL)
Detroit Clowns 1959 (w/ Goose Tatum, IND)

Injuries put an end to a two-plus-season stint holding down second base for the Memphis Red Sox in the early 1950's, but Henry resurfaced in 1955 with the storied Indianapolis Clowns franchise. Henry's showmanship at third base during two seasons in Indianapolis, a team that counts home-run king Henry Aaron among its alumni and is often compared to basketball's Harlem Globetrotters, earned him the nickname "Prince Joe." After sitting out 1957, Prince Joe was coaxed back to the diamond by Detroit Stars owner Ted Rasberry, who renamed his team "Goose Tatum's Detroit Clowns" after the famous Globetrotter and Negro League phenom.

Recalling his days in the league he said, "As I look back, it was the best experience I ever had in my life... the Negro Leagues took me to just about every state in the country and Canada. I had an offer from Goose Tatum to go with him to Europe, but it was across the water and I didn't like to fly."

Link- Be sure to check out Mr. Henry's letter to the MLB Assistance Team. You can find it on the right hand side of the web page.

In addition to his efforts on behalf of retired Negro League players, Mr.Henry is a staff writer with the weekly publication, The Riverfront Times. Ask a Negro Leaguer

You can see an excellent article by Mike Seely from regarding Mr. Henry

User avatar
Tambourine Man
accepts no jimitators
Posts: 11382
Joined: April 21 06, 3:31 pm
Location: I Read the News Today Oh, boy

Post by Tambourine Man »

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Henry on the weekend of August 13, 2006. The interview took place during three separate sessions and will be posted as such.

As always, thank you to the members and staff of GRB for making this such a pleasurable experience!

Additionally, I'd like to make everyone aware that Joe's grandson, Sean, is working on Joe's memoirs. I'll keep everyone updated on the memoirs, which are slated for release next summer or fall.

GRB: It's my understanding that you were oblivious to the Negro League's existence up until the late forties. How did you get your start in baseball, and how did that lead you to the Negro Leagues?

Joe Henry: Okay. I was a softball player, 12-inch fast pitch softball. And it was my game. I loved it. I loved 12-inch fast pitch softball. And by playing it throughout the area here, I got quite a bit of recognition. This lasted up until Josh Johnson, who was a great catcher in the Negro League...

GRB: (Interrupts) I understand he was the backup to Josh Gibson, correct?

Joe Henry: No. I don't know anything but he [Gibson] played on a team that Josh was with. He was on the same team with Josh. Anyway, he used to watch me play this fast-pitch softball and he began to talk to me about how I was wasting my time. Then he said, "Why don't you convert yourself into a baseball player, because the opportunities are here now?" So I told him that I saw no future in baseball for me. And when I learned that he was a catcher in the Negro League, and everything, I didn't know anything about the Negro League! The only thing I knew about the Negro League was hearing names like Reese "Goose" Tatum, who at the time of my knowledge of him, he was the original showman for the Harlem Globetrotters. From there, Abe Saperstein, the owner of the Harlem Globetrotters, was a promoter in the Negro League. So the nucleus of the Harlem Globetrotters came from within the Negro League. Ya know, guys like Ted Strong, Reese "Goose" Tatum, and there was Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, and guys of that nature. Mr. Johnson really started working on me then, and it didn't sink in. Not until I heard about Robinson in 1947. During that period of time, I just didn't really have any interest in baseball. After Robinson, I thought about Satchel Paige going to Cleveland and I said, "Maybe I"ll give it a shot." By doing that, I contacted A.S. "Doc" Young. Young was a columnist for the Chicago Defender, and my letter sent to him in Chicago was transferred to the west coast. That's where he was working from at that point, and he contacted me after he received the letter. So, I told him about myself, softball, Josh Johnson, and gave him Mr. Johnson's phone number. Mr. Johnson, at the time, was the principal at Dunbar high school in Madison, IL. Dunbar was a black high school, the same as where I live here in Brooklyn and schools in St. Louis, Sumner, Vashon, Lincoln of East St. Louis, etc. So, Mr. Young contacted Mr. Johnson and Mr. Johnson came down to tell me about what had happened. That was the beginning of me trying to get some directions about playing baseball. Mr. Johnson, being a former member of the Negro League, knew Homer "Goose" Curry, and Curry was the manager of the Memphis Red Sox at the time. And there was a discussion between Mr. Johnson and I about what would be the best place, because Doc Young told him to tell me to pack my bags and everything. Just have fare to California, and once there he ["Doc" Young] would take care of the rest. He had it all arranged whereas I would get a tryout with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. Then Mr. Johnson said, "Well, Memphis is much shorter, and I also know the manager of the Memphis Red Sox, Homer "Goose" Curry. Why not go to Memphis?" So during that time, Mr. Curry had the one and only black baseball school, and so I went to that school. After I completed that school there for about a couple of weeks, he took me to Memphis with him. That's the way it all started.

GRB: That's how you got your start with the Memphis Red Sox.

Joe Henry: That is absolutely correct. I didn't know a thing about baseball. I'd only played about one or two games of baseball when I decided on converting myself.

GRB: So you just naturally picked it up pretty easily then?

Joe Henry: I don't know how easy it was. Heh, I was under the impression that the Negro League meant nothing but black Americans. But once all the players reported for spring training, in the year of 1950, there were Panamanians, Cubans, and Puerto Rican...Just a conglomerate of different nationalities thrown together.

GRB: So did you have to fight for a roster spot to make the team in spring training?

Joe Henry: No. Not right off, because from going to that school, then working out back in Memphis at Martin Stadium. I pretty well had "Goose" Curry up in the air over me about my play during the school, and the part of spring training prior to all the rest of the guys reporting. But, I found that once they reported, all that publicity and everything that I was garnering prior to that...Heck, I was afraid to get on the field with those guys, after I started watching what they represented as a baseball player. I saw guys doing things that I'd never witnessed at Sportsmans Park in St. Louis among the so-called Major Leagues.

GRB: Pretend you're back in your playing days with the Indianapolis Clowns, and walk us through an average day in the life of a barnstorming ballplayer.

Joe Henry: Well, uh, I didn't really consider myself to be a barnstorming ballplayer. I considered myself to be a player in the Negro League, and the white kids considered themselves to be a player in the Major Leagues.

GRB: So what was an average day in the life of a Negro League player then?

Joe Henry: Beautiful! It gave me an opportunity to see America, or most of it, firsthand. By me already being a history buff...Every opportunity that I got, once travelin' the country where some prominently named black person was from, I would always try to visit the site to get more information about how they arrived at that point in their life. With the Indianapolis Clowns when we played ball in Hazlehurst, MS...That was where Richard Wright, the great novelist, the author of Black Boy and other books grew up.

GRB: How would your day start?

Joe Henry: Well, we would do just like if I were home, ya know. At that particular time, everyplace that we were scheduled to play was like home. We got a whoppin' two dollars per day to eat with, and we would take that two dollars, and it was just as if we had 25 dollars apiece to eat with everyday. We would perform miracles with those two dollars, because that was the norm. Food was so cheap in restaurants. I mean, you could get a pretty good steak for about 35 or 40 cents!

GRB: What time would you normally arrive at the ballpark to get ready for the game?

Joe Henry: Oh, not until that night. So many times we'd play a game, and were headed for the next township where we would be bedded down, and whenever we felt like we wanted to go eat, we would go eat. And when it was time to go to the ballpark, the bus would be awaiting us. From the hotel, or wherever we were, there was a time where we were supposed to go to the ballpark, and all the guys would get their little carry-on with all their necessities. Ya know, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush...You could carry it around real handy-like, and just take that to the bus. Once we'd go to the park, after the game we'd take a shower and use whatever we needed to try to primp ourselves up. That was it. Then the bus would takeoff back into the heart of the town. At that particular time, Mike, the area in which blacks lived was referred to as the colored section. So that's where we would go back down to eat. Then, if we were going out to the next town, right after we'd finished eating we boarded the bus and took off.

GRB: And the same thing the next day?

Joe Henry: Same identical thing. It was repetitious. It was beautiful. It was a wonderful, wonderful life. That's why the Negro League, at one time, was patronized as the bus league, because we were steadily traveling. And I must say, with some of the greatest bus drivers you'd ever want to ride behind.

GRB: Were they funny guys?

Joe Henry: You mean the bus drivers? Well, they were all dubbed as "chauff." That means, uh, an abbreviation for chauffeur. And do you know that many of the buses when I was out there, were of the flexible type; the equivalent of the Greyhound bus. During that time, these guys drove the bus night and day, but weren't permitted to drive a Greyhound bus. What several of the bus drivers within the Negro League...If that bus would break down en route to the place we were headed, all that chauffeur needed was the tools. I have seen a motor taken out of the bus and put together before the game was over that night. Now this means starting at a time before the game. And after they got the proper things to fix that bus with, they would fix'em and be ready to roll again. So they were doing something that the Greyhound bus drivers couldn't do.

GRB: In addition to driving the bus, they were also mechanics.

Joe Henry: That is absolutely correct. There was a case about one bus that one of the older ballplayers told us about, where several players got so mad at the bus driver for keeping that bus in shape. They just played a little game, and shot a few bullets in the motor. "Let's kill this sucka', so we can get another one!" That's how good those bus drivers were. They not only drove the bus, but there were several that could fix the bus. In Memphis, at a mechanic shop, about four of the bus drivers drove for different teams in the Negro League.

GRB: Oh, really?

Joe Henry: Yeah, all of them were mechanics! And I mean super drivers! That's right!

GRB: Where were some of your favorite places that you visited across the country?

Joe Henry: There were many places, like in Daytona Beach, that's where the college was. The college was named after a great, great, black lady. I visited the college and visited the gravesite of the lady, Mary McLeod Bethune. And there were other places. I would go to the spots where these people were from. I was really in a learning process while out there. One of my little buddies that clowned along with me when I was with the Indianapolis Clowns was from Daytona Beach. "Spec Bebop"(Chuckles) He was a midget. We used to tease him all the time sayin', "That's the biggest midget in the world!"

GRB: Names like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige are well known to baseball fans of the modern era. Would you mind throwin' out some names of the Negro League players who, in your opinion, might deserve more recognition for their abilities?

Joe Henry: To be honest with you, I know how things are marketed. Like Ted Williams in the Major League, guys like that. This is the same way the Negro League was marketed. Guys like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson...I couldn't even begin to tell you of the players that I met when I went to Memphis in 1950. Then, I learned of so many other guys by meeting them. They were playin' in the Negro League before Robinson, and after Robinson's entry into the Dodgers organization. I met so many of these guys while they were still around and some at an advanced age. Like Oscar Charleston, a great, great, great centerfielder...He was manager of the Indianapolis Clowns when I first met him. Guys that I read about that worked out before Robinson, or with Robinson trying to get into the white baseball league. Like "Showboat" Thomas...There's just so many of them. I did have the opportunity to play against the Chicago American Giants in 1950 and '51. That's when guys like Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, who died recently...Ted Strong, who was really the first black in the NBA. That's when it was the South Bend Studebakers or the Chicago Studebakers, but that was the team that was playin' then in what was the NBA. Later, in the early fifties, three more came on to play in what is now the NBA. These three guys happened to have been Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, and Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, the guy that I would play with in 1958, which was my last year with "Goose" Tatum. "Goose" Tatum came back that particular year, or the next year, to try to boost attendance because Jackie Robinson's entry in to the Dodgers organization destroyed the Negro League at that time. After 1947, the league began to go downhill. When I got to Memphis in1950, there were 10 teams still in the league. Teams like the Homestead Grays and teams like...I never got an opportunity to play against those teams.

GRB: They were already dissolved by the time you got there?

Joe Henry: Yes, or they were already playing out east.

GRB: These athletes that you're talking about, like "Sweetwater" Clifton, they represent, in a way, the genesis of the two sport athlete. You know how everyone points to Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders...

Joe Henry: (Interrupts) Ya know what, Mike. It's very comical to me when national news gets a hold of some thing like that, when in essence; the Negro League was full of that. It was never ever advertised. There were football players, basketball players, and track stars all combined into one. That was no great big thing within the Negro League. You were subject to see anything happen. Guys playin' ball that may have been a heck of a ballplayer...That same guy could be boxing professionally. There was nothing but talent among those guys, ya know. In 1950 and '51 when I was with Memphis, you had guys coming out of the black colleges. There were football players, baseball players, basketball players...Robinson played anything and then played golf! This man was super talented! And that's how so many black players among the Negro League were of the same caliber. That's why I say that it was an experience to meet these guys with that much ability to perform in any of these categories. Here in Brooklyn, there was only a basketball team and a football team, and the coach kept tryin' to field a complete football team.

GRB: So you hadn't been exposed to that great talent, that level of athlete?

Joe Henry: Just like I say with being black, you knew all about these things but it was no big thing! It was just like, if this guy feels like playin' football today, he could play it. If he feels like playin' basketball, he could play it. He's multitalented, ya know. I remember when Gene Conley, of the Boston Braves, ended up with the Boston Braves and the Boston Celtics. There was a great big hullabaloo and black people, in that instance wondered, "What is so great about this?" Ya know, it was no big thing to them. Only when you come on the stage in the so-called Major Leagues, they reach and grabbed it then bam! It's the same thing with Lou Boudreau. He played shortstop for the Cleveland Indians and managed at the same time. Ya know what? He was a hell of a basketball player who came out of Illinois here! Had he been playin' in the NBA or somethin' like that at the time, then shortstop in baseball, they'd have made a big issue out of that.

GRB: What are your thoughts on the St. Louis Browns?

Joe Henry: Well, this is after the Browns had left St. Louis to go to Baltimore and became the Baltimore Orioles. Before that happened, after my second year with the Memphis Red Sox, I went over to workout because the Browns held a tryout school over there at Sportsmans Park. And there were at least a hundred people over there. So I went over there and worked out, and I was told by one of the coaches...I think his name was Freddie Fitzsimmons or something. He pulled me to the side, and he told me, "You are the best prospect we have out there on that field, but we don't have a minor league club to send you to." The Browns were so bad, that when I went over there to workout when I was told that I said, "Well hell, I thought the Browns were a minor league team!" They were the worst team in and out of baseball. They would choose a one-armed white outfielder over one of those guys in the Negro League. Then, Bill Veeck purchased a little midget to send him up to the plate.

GRB: Eddie Gaedel, right?

Joe Henry: That is absolutely correct. The comical thing about the Browns is that in 1947, when Robinson went to Brooklyn and Paige went to Cleveland, Willard Brown and Hank Thompson went to the St. Louis Browns. The Browns were so poor in attendance, because of being so bad that they were lucky if a hundred or two hundred people would show up. What I'm doing right here is exaggerating a bit (chuckles), but I'm trying to point out how terrible the Browns were. Do you know that Willard Brown had been known for years in the Negro League as a power hitter, along the lines of a Josh Gibson? Hank Thompson was one heck of an infielder. They cut Brown loose because of his age, or so they say. But that happened because he didn't hit a homerun every time he went to the plate to make the turnstiles go around, trying to fill up that ballpark over there! Then, they let hank Thompson go! Hank Thompson went right from the Browns to the New York Giants and starred the next eight years!

GRB: So the Browns didn't know what they had on their hands?

Joe Henry: They cared less because they wound up with Paige. They really publicized Paige. Here's a guy moseying along and he had a big ole' comfortable chair where he would relax while the game was goin' on, or until he was called on. I mean, he was used mostly as a selling point.

GRB: Publicity.

Joe Henry: That is right! But every time they'd hand him that ball, even being at the age he was, he was still a bad son of a gun! Let me make this clear, Mike. There was a difference in the way black athletes, or blacks period saw themselves. They knew that they had been kept in obscurity. They knew what they could and couldn't do. Sadly, at that particular time, it was thought that blacks could not excel on the same field as whites. Jackie Robinson got all this attention for what he was doing because he was told by some of the so-called baseball experts that he couldn't ever play Major League Baseball, and that he would be lucky to make a Class C team. Most whites, at that time, shared the same feeling that a black person could not excel on the same field with whites. Every time I think of all this kind of stuff, in a so-called civilized society, it is really insane to me! And I'll tell you why I feel this way. Hey, when I was playing 12-inch fast pitch softball, we whipped white teams up and down through this area...Jerseyville and all of those different places. So when Jackie Robinson was going into the Dodgers organization, and I heard all the talk that he's incapable of playing ball with the white boys, it started making me think, "Am I crazy or not? What's so much different about the white boys that went up the ladder in the so-called majors, and the guys that played softball against us?" This was no big thing to me! It was no big thing to Robinson! Robinson was a whiz at UCLA. He knew what he could do. Let me tell you something else. That act that he and Branch Rickey put together was the biggest piece of psychology ever laid out in America. When Rickey was telling Robinson, "I don't want you as just a baseball player. I know what you can do as a baseball player. What I want is someone who can turn the other cheek." There were baseball team owners that hated Rickey's guts for doing what he was trying to do. Robinson knew that he could play ball out there. What was being said was a joke to him because he had already performed against white kids in college. He knew the attitudes of some of the white fellows that he played against while in college. It was a joke! The reason I'm saying this...I just wish you could be in my shoes, and look back over things, and hear some of the things such as, a black could not excel on the same field as whites. It makes you wonder, "Where in the hell have these people been!" And this is terrible in a supposedly civilized world!

GRB: There are rumors that Branch Rickey wasn't as interested in actually integrating baseball but was more interested in the fact that he could sign a more talented black player for less money than he could a good white player. Do you think there's any truth to that rumor?

Joe Henry: Look, you and I know that. You know that Rickey knew about great black baseball players because he had some idea about the Negro League. But the point is, and is today, that the same thing that slaughtered the Browns, not much attendance; the same thing that destroyed the Negro League, a loss of attendance because of Robinson going in with one of the white teams. Rickey's idea was to jam that park at Ebbets Field. If he jammed that park, it was going to start breaking down the thinking of so-called Major League Baseball owners. Now when you look back there, and if you can sort out all of that history of Robinson not being able to excel on a field with white players...Look what blacks did! It was said, at one time when Rickey was acting to bringing Robinson on the Dodgers...There was talk like, "If they bring him [Robinson] into this park, these [expletive] followin' him are going to tear down this ballpark!" Well, rather than tearing down the ballpark, if you look at these parks today, all of them have brand new ballparks based upon one of the biggest promotional events between Rickey and Robinson that the country has seen. It's just so simple. You can't be so far fetched and out of reality that you want to grab somethin' and say, "This guy can't do this because he isn't white." If you think about that, it is really, really, really, really comical.

GRB: Do you think that the modern black athletes appreciate what folks like you and Jackie Robinson paved the way for?

Joe Henry: There might be a few, but most of them have gotten so caught up in the money and publicity that they don't have time to reach back into their great history to try to learn from whence they came. This is my negative feeling toward most of these black players whether it be basketball, baseball, track, or whatever. They're makin' all kinds of money in track these days. And when I was growin' up, track athletes couldn't earn 15 cents. In fact, Jesse Owens, after winning in the Olympics, had to come back to America after causing Hitler to get up and leave the Olympic Stadium rather than shake his hand ...He had to come back to America and race race horses, many times at Negro League games. That was absolutely terrible. I really look back on things such as that, Mike, and it didn't make sense to me then. It doesn't make sense to me now. That is why I think the way that I do. And if this is supposed to be a civilized society, then people should not be hurt for standing up and telling the truth.

GRB: You were in a unique situation of having left the Negro League, only to return due to injuries that forced you to retire from the white minor leagues. What was the general attitude of the Negro League players who might not have been good enough, or never had the opportunity to make the jump to the minors or majors toward those players who did?

Joe Henry: Do you know that from the time Robinson was purchased by the Brooklyn Dodgers, every baseball player that was in the Negro league pushed him and rooted for him? I've seen things happen on the baseball field. After Robinson went to the Brooklyn Dodgers, there were guys comin' along like Aaron, Mays, and such. And the pitchers out there on that hill wouldn't do anything to hurt that player's chance.

GRB: So it was all camaraderie?

Joe Henry: In other words, they weren't goin' to let him get away on them scot-free. They were goin' to give him the best pitches that they had to deliver. If he was goin' to star on the pitcher then they were goin' to have to star by dealing with that pitchers best stuff. But those pitchers would never go out of their way to knock down those who were goin' up. There was nothing but happiness among those players, because they felt that, "If he gets the chance, then I might get the chance." And the thought was, with Robinson moving up, that the things that were going on between black baseball players and white baseball players...It'll break all of that junk up. I've read a lot of things about black players getting mad all the way up till 1958. But back then, if there was word that there were going to be scouts in the park, they would spread the word like, "There's two or three scouts in the park tonight. Some guys from the Braves, so you'd better put on your very best brotha'!" That's why I consider the Negro League to be the greatest experience that I've ever had in my life. I had the opportunity to see class. I mean super class and everything that stemmed from around it.

GRB: So would you guys do any joking with each others like, "I'm gonna' hit a homerun tonight, because I know there are scouts!" Was there anything like that goin' on?

Joe Henry: As I said, "You can show your wares, brotha', cause there's three or four scouts in the park! I ain't lyin'!" And if a scout talked to one of the players, the other guys were pleased because they always had this feeling like, "If he gets these chances, then I also have the opportunity of getting that chance." We knew that nothing was 100% all the time. I'm gonna tell you something, Mike. I feel that fans are getting kicked in the booty. Every time I get the opportunity to say things that other people would like to say, but might not have this type of opportunity, I say it. When they call this junk that they play today Major League Baseball, I still call it not major league. It is all tied into a big business racket. What they should do, to really boil it down to truly being major, is cut those teams back down to 16 teams with eight in the American League and eight in the National League. With all of this money that Major League Baseball is being paid, the fans should be able to enjoy these games they attend with all of these high prices and everything. When you field a league with 16 teams of the very best, you can look for a battle every game that these teams play. Then, the fans would be respected in regards to the money that they're paying for a hotdog, ticket prices, and a playoff game. A man can't take his kids and wife to a ballgame. That's a hundred, or two hundred dollars, or better. You know what? The fans have gotta' quit making jerks outta' themselves and realize that they're the boss! No fans, no team owners, no teams!

GRB: That's true but you know that will never happen.

Joe Henry: You know what? Joe Lieberman, the Democrat from Connecticut, never thought that the people would get together there the way they did. He felt certain that he couldn't be beaten. Those people in that state let him know who the boss was.

GRB: He didn't even make it out of the primary.

Joe Henry: That is absolutely correct. These things that you say will never happen; They'll never happen if you don't try to make them happen. I'm a guy that never says never. I am a guy that feels that there are so many intelligent people in America that they can catch on, and when they decide, "We're gonna let you know who the boss is! We're gonna let you know that you can't walk all over us like you feel you can!" That's what baseball fans today have within their power to make happen.

GRB: When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in '47, he brought an exciting style of play that he'd learned in the Negro League along with him, especially regarding baserunning. What are your impressions of how the game is played today compared to the style played in the Negro League?

Joe Henry: Well, it was baseball that we played in the Negro League. Just like I say, there's always excitement goin' on in some kind of way, ya know. Willie Wells was supposed to have started the trend of wearing helmets because he had a miner's helmet. At the time, so-called Major League Baseball didn't have exciting base runners. There might've been one guy, or another guy that could steal a base here and there. Everything seemed like it was programmed. It became more exciting. Just like back then, you heard of Babe Ruth, Lou Gherig, Ralph Kiner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Johnny Mize of the St. Louis Cardinals. Guys like that were homerun hitters. There was a lot of difference, because runnin' was always a part of the Negro League. I just can't pinpoint different things because in both cases it was baseball. There was just a little bit more added on to it. Ya know how they talk about when Robinson came with that little additional thing that he added to make it a bit more exciting? People like to see players steal bases the same as people like to see players hit homeruns. It was baseball. Both of them were baseball.
Last edited by Tambourine Man on October 9 06, 7:05 pm, edited 6 times in total.

Fat Strat
Official GRB Sponsor of Larry Bigbie
Posts: 28041
Joined: April 17 06, 9:16 pm
Location: No. 16 on the Cards Top 15 Prospect List

Post by Fat Strat »

That interview is freakin' sweet. What an interesting guy.

I look forward to reading the other parts.

User avatar
bronoun enthusiast
Posts: 29577
Joined: April 14 06, 10:45 pm
Location: extremely online

Post by thrill »

Awesome, awesome interview.

Single A Minor League Player
Posts: 1
Joined: September 18 06, 4:54 am


Post by RedHawk »

Nicely written interview. I am very fortunate to consider myself a good friend of Joe Henry. He and I speak by phone often and Joe is an amazing man whom I consider a part of my extended family even though we are not related. He and I came into contact as a result of a fantasy league I run on a site called I am the commissioner of a premier league there called Negro League Tribute. Thank you for posting the interview.

User avatar
Tambourine Man
accepts no jimitators
Posts: 11382
Joined: April 21 06, 3:31 pm
Location: I Read the News Today Oh, boy

Answers with "Prince" Joe Henry Part 2

Post by Tambourine Man »

GRB: Do you think the emphasis on power hitting has taken away some from the game today?

Joe Henry: I love power hitters! I really love it!

GRB: Whaddya make of Albert Pujols?

Joe Henry: Oh, he's a bad son of a gun!

GRB: Oh, yeah?

Joe Henry: Oh, yeah! He's a bad son of a gun! Let me tell you something. The money has changed the context of baseball today. All of those high-priced salaries and everything like that. Baseball was a game that, at one time, most of the players made about five thousand dollars a year. Players had to get extra jobs and everything. And in the Major Leagues, there were guys that jumped the league to play in Mexico when blacks had been going there for years. Guys like Danny Gardella and Max Lanier. When I look back on the accomplishments and contributions of black players like Curt Flood, sometimes I wonder if it was worth him sticking out his neck in order too break down the barriers that the baseball team owners had up. That's when the baseball team owners had a guy by the butt. If they didn't want you to play for another team, you couldn't play. When Flood started his fight, he was sort of dissatisfied with the Cardinals. And when they tried to pedal him off to Washington, he told them, "No way!" The thing that he started eventually broke that string of hope that the white baseball owners had over players. And there were a lot of guys that did not stand behind him. I think it was Carl Yastremszki that would not stand behind him. A lot of guys, they didn't have the courage to stand up. Look at these baseball players today. They're multi-millionaires. So now, after a guy signs a contract for 10 million dollars, there's a clause in there that states that if he gets cut, he'll still get a million or two! Well, he's a millionaire, so what in the hell does he care?

GRB: Do you think that some of those millionaire athletes might be in it for the paycheck, and not because they like playing the game?

Joe Henry: I don't think that a guy would want to suffer any embarrassment as a baseball player. Ya see, I've been watching A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez] recently. And he looks awful down because a lot of fans have turned against him, especially in New York. The average player, if he's any kinda guy with pride, wants to keep the love, that close rapport with fans. And if he happened to be a guy like Ted Williams...That's a guy that I truly loved because he refused to be bent. I mean, you'd see the average player hit a homerun, and he'd begin and tip his hat as he'd round the bases. Williams didn't even know what that was. He'd jog around the bases and seemingly spit in the direction of the fans. This guy was so great that it's unbelievable for a guy with that much talent to stand up for what he really believed in. And I was a guy that really, really loved him.

GRB: He actually had a reputation as being somewhat terse with the media.

Joe Henry: Yep, and he'd let nobody twist him around. He was just one heck of a guy. And he was just so natural that he brought a lot to baseball.

GRB: He was definitely one of the greats.

Joe Henry: Yes, he was.

GRB: If you were given the chance to play in the game as it is now, Joe, would you jump at the opportunity?

Joe Henry: I don't think so.

GRB: No?

Joe Henry: Uh...uh. Every time I see a player slide, I hurt all over. It rings every bone in my body with this arthritis. I just don't have that much interest in baseball. In fact, I lost interest shortly after I went to Memphis. I just lost interest.

GRB: After you started your career?

Joe Henry: The history part became more important to me. And because of that history, I just lost interest in baseball. I was ridin' all around the country for free at the expense of baseball team owners. I was just enjoying myself. Even when I was with the Clowns, there was a white owner whose name was Syd Pollack...Even as I was puttin' on a show, after I was much, much, less than a 100% ballplayer, scouts were still followin' me! Ed Hamman, who became a part owner of the Clowns with Syd Pollack...When scouts would come around to talk to him about me, without my knowledge, he would tell them, "Aw, he's done! He's done! His arm's shot! He can't throw! He's gotta' walk the ball to first base!" (Laughs) He'd let'em know right off the jump, "You'll never get him away from me! The man is almost broken to bits and stuff!" He'd let'em know, because the scouts told me that! Ya know, the scouts for the New York Giants, the scouts for the Braves...

GRB: Even after that knowledge, did scouts still have an interest in you?

Joe Henry: They just though that I was puttin' on a show with all of those gimmicks that I originated. They thought, by the way I handled all of that, I could still play a hundred percent. So Ed would get to'em, when they would look for the owner or somebody. And when I was mentioned, he'd say, "Hey, he can't play! He can't even throw the ball to first base! His arm's gone! His leg's gone!" That was comical to me when I knew about that. And Ed was so honest that he told me, "Well hell no! I was gonna tell'em what was goin' on with you! I didn't plan for none of'em to try to get a hold of ya!" That was real comical. Just like the Washington Senators, they wanted to send me to one of their top farm systems. It was the Florida International League somewhere. One of the teams in that league was based in Havana, Cuba. These people from the Senators told me that, should I come into the Washington organization, I would be ridin' in style. And I asked him, "What kinda ridin' would that be?" He said, "You'll be flying to Havana." So I told him, "Well, I wanna be perfectly honest to you, just like you were honest to me. Baseball is not my hobby. I like ridin' these buses." So that cut that off about that plane! There's no way!

GRB: You didn't care for flying at the time?

Joe Henry: No way! The Braves wanted to buy the whole Mount Vernon franchise just to get me. I had quite a few good experiences, ya know. It's good to bring up and relate to somebody who's interested in baseball but I don't care much for baseball now. If the Cardinals weren't in the National League, I probably wouldn't look at a game. But every time I look at a game, it has to be something dealin' with the Cardinals.

GRB: That's the only team you pay any attention to?

Joe Henry: Mmm...hmm. But my interest in the Cardinals is for them to get beat! (Both laugh)

GRB: You don't particularly care for the Cardinals ownership at this time, do you?

Joe Henry: Not at all. No.

GRB: Would you mind sharing your feelings on that?

Joe Henry: The only time that I generated a little feeling toward the Cardinals was when Curt Flood, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Orlando Cepeda, guys like that...There's just something about that Cardinals organization over there that I don't care for. I haven't cared for a Cardinals broadcasting team since the days of [Charles] "Gabby" Street, ("The Old Sarge") France Locke, Dizzy Dean, and Harry Caray. Ya know, Shannon sounds as if he has a whiskey voice or something. And when he says, "Get up, get up, get up"...All that kinda' junk. And this guy, John Rooney, he's sickening. I've been tempted to name him "Motor mouth." I like to go back into the days of Red Barber and guys like that. They were so cool in broadcasting games that they just did something to ya. They would take a play and turn it into something so nice. A guy could run like Al Gionfriddo of the Dodgers. I remember one game, when a guy hit a drive toward the fence and Gionfriddo started off to retrieve the ball. And Barber went on to say, "And Gionfriddo is on the run. And he can run." That was so much class to me, ya know.

GRB: Right. Just a different style.

Joe Henry: Right. You don't gotta' tell what color drawers a guys got on and how often he changes his drawers. You don't gotta' tell that kinda' junk. I'm gonna' tell you who I can't stand is that damn Joe Morgan! Aw man, it is so sickening that I just don't know what to do. I mean, Jack buck was alright, but that's a dynasty there. It's a whole family of broadcasters! I really started out liking Joe Buck, but when they teamed him with this doggone Tim McCarver...It is sickening! I just loved that class, that real smooth class, ya know. All of that tellin' about everything that happened in a guys life...I just consider these guys to be butt kissers to hold their jobs. And this McCarver man, he's absolutely just sickening!

GRB: Do you ever listen to any Joe Morgan broadcasts?

Joe Henry: Oh, I can't stand that too long. I just turn the volume down. That's the way I do it with John Rooney and Rick Horton. I just turn the volume completely off and use my own knowledge of the game to try and enjoy it. This Rooney hollers louder than all get up when a guy hits a ball, "Way back, back!" He goes through all that and then the guy catches the ball. They have made a shambles out of everything. I used to love "Old Sarge" and "Gabby" Street. You're too young to know anything about them. They were nice. They'd tell a story or two, the kind you can enjoy. And then they'd talk about something else, like when Danny Street was trying to catch a ball thrown from the Washington Monument. It was so interesting the way they would do it. And then, I fell in love with Harry Caray.

GRB: You liked Harry?

Joe Henry: Yes, I did. I mean, he'd put you right there in the ballgame. He would dramatize it, like when a man would come up to the plate. He could make you see the game as he was talking about it.

GRB: Do you think he may have hung onto his broadcasting job a bit too long in the later years, or do you think he'd established himself as a Chicago icon?

Joe Henry: Well, I think he established himself anywhere there was a broadcasting booth because he was that kind of charismatic person. Ya know what? He would get into trouble for saying the things that he felt. If the Cardinals played like a bunch of chumps, he would say it! He was just a heck of a guy, ya know.

GRB: Why do you think that baseball has declined in popularity among today's black youth, and how can baseball be brought back to the black community?

Joe Henry: That's very easy! I can tell ya that! Things, especially in regard to blacks, are out there to make some money. What people can't realize is that, since blacks have been in America, and they were supposed to have been let free, the money was kept away from'em. When you go back into the history of blacks and makin' money, you pick it up in the time of boxing. Blacks gravitated toward boxing because boxing had proven prior to be of financial security. And that's why so many boxers would go down the drain, but then you had so many that were successful. When blacks began to get into baseball, they might be able play with one of those so-called Major League teams, or not! It was controlled to the point that you've got to be sent over here to Eau Claire. And after you spent time at Eau Claire, you might get sent to another farm team. Sometimes, you might go all the way up, you might not. And it was a long way of trying to make some money, but the money, at the time, was still good money. Then here came basketball and football. Baseball didn't offer all of the big bonuses and everything, especially to blacks. After Curt Flood, they began to take the same type of avenue toward making some pretty good money. Then blacks came along to jump towards basketball and football. Well, hell, if a player signed one contract and if he's successful, and could hang onto his money, he's gonna pile him up a lot of money. A lot of things went on back then, Mike. This sort of stuff that was carried on about how a guy had to move in order to be successful, there's still this kinda junk about basketball and football. About how a guy who played high school basketball could not come out of high-school and play in the pros. They tried to head that off at the high school level talkin' about proposition 48 and all that junk. This country is a capitalistic system. And a capitalistic system is one without conscience. Anything that the government can get some money out of; They're gonna lean toward that. It's just big business.

GRB: Would you mind sharing your boxing background?

Joe Henry: Who me? Well, I used to just train guys for the Golden Gloves in St. Louis. This was during the time that Sonny Liston and all those kinda' guys were in the Golden Gloves. Kenny Silver and just so many guys that I rubbed elbows with, ya know. I was a pretty good boxer, but I couldn't hit!

GRB: Oh, you could dodge'em, but couldn't hit?

Joe Henry: Yeah! I was fancier than "Sugar" Ray Robinson, and that's who I stole my style from. And that's who Muhammad Ali stole his style from, "Sugar" Ray Robinson.

GRB: What do you make of Ali?

Joe Henry: I think he is exactly what he said he was; The Greatest. You know what? He was exactly the greatest. I mean, whatever he got into that most in the country thought to be wrong...He had that type of personality to deal with it. And he was one of the greatest, not just in the ring; he was one of the greatest outside the ring. George Foreman stole his charismatic side, and look at the millions of dollars that he has made from it. Ya know, he was alright in the boxing ring as long as he didn't get in front of Muhammad Ali. All these things that people like to hear...They like to hear when a guy gets a whoopin' and not winning any fight he encounters. And so, Foreman turned into a pretty good showman on the order of Muhammad Ali.

GRB: Did you watch the infamous rope-a-dope fight with Foreman?

Joe Henry: Yeah, when they kept telling him, "Get off that rope! Get off the ropes!" His trainers, including Angelo Dundee, didn't want Muhammad Ali to fight George Foreman. And I couldn't blame'em. During the Olympics, when George Foreman walked around the ring waving that mini American flag, that guy could hit harder than lightnin' could thump a stump! They kinda' thought that Muhammad Ali asked for more than he could swallow. That's why he went into that rope-a-dope, and he did that to try and let Foreman wear himself out. Even Jim Brown, the football player, advised Muhammad Ali not to fight Foreman. Jim Brown was sitting at ringside, and could hardly look up to see what was happening to Muhammad Ali. And after Muhammad Ali let Foreman punch himself out, he could tell it. When he stepped in and delivered that sharp left hook and followed up, Foreman's knees wobbled all over the place. Then, Muhammad Ali looked out at Jim Brown and said, "I got this mother now!" That's right! It was all over then! But you see what all of that boxing did to him. It had a lot to do with his condition today. He was one of the cleanest livers that you'd wanna see. Then along came Don King, and he became one of the greatest promoters ever. He does a lot of talking and people love him because he can say comical things.

GRB: I understand Ali didn't care much for Don King, did he?

Joe Henry: I can't say that, but I've heard that sentiment expressed by several boxers.

GRB: It's obvious that you've competed against some very gifted ballplayers. To your recollection, who was the absolute best position player and best pitcher that you faced in your career?

Joe Henry: I couldn't really answer that because I couldn't even say that about Willie Mays when I played against him. Mays was just one hell of a baseball player! At that point, I couldn't speak in a way that he was going to go all the way and become what he became. That's the same as Ernie Banks. Banks was about 165 lbs, and he could hit the ball into the next community!

GRB: How'd you fare against Satchel Paige when you faced him?

Joe Henry: Oh, I only faced him one time when he was with the Chicago American Giants in 1951. I went to the plate five times, and struck out four without him throwin' as hard as he originally had.

GRB: Really?

Joe Henry: Yeah, he was just a smart, smart, smart man. Do you know that he and my manager, who knew each other very well, had a bet on me! My manager told him that he had a young kid from around St. Louis, and I was supposed to wear Satchel Paige out that day. And each time I struck out, and was headed back to the dugout, I heard Satch say, "Goooooose!" He was callin' my manager but I didn't know what was happenin'!

GRB: So you didn't know that there was a bet goin' down?

Joe Henry: Uh...uh. The fourth time, after I struck out and was headed back to the dugout, he hollered, "Goooooose!" And I happened to look around as he was noddin' his head at me. Ya know, like sayin', "Is this the youngster from around St. Louis that's gonna' wear me out?"

GRB: So did you get a hit off him?

Joe Henry: I grounded weakly back to him. And he just went over, picked the ball up and tossed me out. But I was thinking about the fame that he carried with him. After the game, I was gonna' call my dad and tell him that I had faced Satchel Paige! I was gonna' exaggerate, because I was going to tell him that I hit a hard line drive back to Paige, and he had to do some heck of things to defend himself against a ball that was hit as hard as I hit it! Then when I got in the clubhouse to start preparing to take me a shower, "Goose"[Curry], my manager, was sittin' in a chair watchin' my every move. I saw him over there and I said, "Hey Goose, how ya doin?" And he was looking at me with his eyes frowned and he said, "Not worth a goddamn!" So I said, "What's wrong with you?" He said, "Boy, you can't hit a damn thing!" Yeah! So I said, "That's why you're upset with me?" Then he said, "Damn right!" I said, "You can't get upset with me, Goose. Look at all of these guys years back that he was striking out before I even knew anything about him." And, uh, that kind of broke up that closeness that my manager had with me. Because he saw in me, a person who could go as far as they wanted to go but it was up to me. So he stopped speakin' to me a little bit there. What happened in Rickwood Park in Birmingham, Alabama...He got beaten by two or three white policemen, who worked as security at the park, because he argued a called pitch with the black umpire. And the umpire turned and beckoned for the white Birmingham policemen, and they ordered Goose to get back into the third base coaching box. Goose was tellin' them that he had three minutes to do that. [expletive], they started whoopin' him right there at home plate. They led him away from home plate bleedin' and out the side entrance of Rickwood Park. I stood atop the front of the dugout crying like a kid when I was watchin' that. Now these were policemen that were tied into "Bull" Connor, who was the commissioner of police during the time that Dr. Martin Luther King and the group went into Birmingham. They were shot with fire hoses, attacked by dogs, cattle prods, and all of that.

GRB: How did Goose recover from that?

Joe Henry: Well, he came out all right.

GRB: Just a little shaken emotionally?

Joe Henry: Yeah, ya know, he bled a lot. But I thought that I could get back in close friendship with him. We were in Fort Wayne, Indiana and he was sittin' in the clubhouse with half of his uniform on. Ya know, the socks and all that. So I tried to say something to him to make him feel real good, because he was in his fifties then. So I said to him, "Goose, you know, you are really built." I could barely hear him say, "Yeah." And then I made it a little better and said, "How much do you weigh?" He said, "Well, it's according to who I'm up against. Against a white Birmingham policeman, I don't weigh anything." Then he said, "But I weigh a ton on yo' ass!" (Both laugh) I thought, "To heck with it. I can't be buddies with him anymore." So I left him alone.

GRB: Didn't you guys become friendly in later years?

Joe Henry: Uh...uh. He just treated me like a ballplayer. At first, he just thought the world of me as a ballplayer. But see, there were some pretty, pretty, pretty, women in Memphis. They came from Booker T. Washington high school over to the park and everything. And so, I met a couple and was gabbin' and talkin' with them. Then Goose happened to come out to the park at the same time when one of them was standin', talkin' to me, smilin', and goin' on. So Goose passed me and said, "How Ya doin', Joe?" I said, "Oh, Goose, I'm alright." He said, "Yeah, I see it! But I wanna let you know one thing!" Then he said, "Any ho' will wear out a pole!" Yep! (Both laugh)

GRB: What were some instances of running into the Jim Crow laws while you were traveling with the team?

Joe Henry: Uh, blacks, at that time, had come to be what was considered marooned. You knew where you were. You always understood who you were. It became a way of life. Therefore, you were ever cautious.

GRB: Were there any veteran players that showed you any tough love? Ya know, did any of them tell you, "Look, you don't do that when you're traveling with this team!"?

Joe Henry: If you're from up this way, any place that's supposed to be considered the north, you know where ya are! When you get there, a certain lifestyle begins to takeover. You know that you're required to say yes sir and no sir. That's something that I never really went all out to say. I was about like guys when I was growin' up in this community. If two guys start wrestlin' and one gets a better grip on the other, ya know, if one gets an arm around the other's neck and really starts squeezin'em. In order to get loose he had to holler "calf rope." Well, the average guy didn't want to show weakness by sayin' "calf rope." There were times when an opposing guy would bend their arm around the other's neck. And by the mere fact that the guys did not want to say calf rope, he could wait too long and darn near get choked to death! By the time that he realized that he was near being choked to death, he would try to say calf rope and couldn't get a word out of his mouth. He would make a gurgling noise.

GRB: Just some gurgles?

Joe Henry: Mmm...hmmm. [expletive], if there wasn't somebody standin' right there by him actin' as the referee to say, "Let him go! Let him go! You chokin' him to death! You killin' him! You killin' him!" If you didn't have somebody to do that, well, there would have been deaths. But the average guy like me, when a guy would get his arm around my neck tellin' me to say "calf rope", I'd say, (Hollers) "Calfroooooope!" (Both laugh)

GRB: You weren't gonna' give'em a chance to let you not holler!

Joe Henry: Hey, no sooner did I feel his arm around my neck and he'd tell me to say
Calf rope...(Hollers) "Calfroooooope!" And then I'd feel his grip loosen. Hell naw', I ain't that tough! (Both laugh)

GRB: What was your size during your playing days? How big were you?

Joe Henry: About 185 lbs.

GRB: How tall?

Joe Henry: About 6 feet...5'11 and a half.

GRB: That's a pretty good build! I bet you could've taken some guys down with ya!

Joe Henry: They used to call me the arm and hammer man. You know, like on those soda boxes. They had a guy on there with muscles and everything. Yeah, they used to call me that. The arm and hammer man. I was built pretty nice.

GRB: You'd have to be to compete at that level.

Joe Henry: Yeah, but when I contracted diabetes in 1976, I was weighing 218 lbs and was pretty well put together. Now I'm down to 20.

GRB: You're down to what?

Joe Henry: 20 lbs! (Both laugh)
Last edited by Tambourine Man on October 4 06, 4:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Hall Of Famer
Posts: 20035
Joined: April 18 06, 7:38 pm

Post by TimeForGuinness »

awesome...simply awesome.

User avatar
99% conan clips
Posts: 62224
Joined: April 18 06, 5:14 pm

Post by Jocephus »

haha...he rips mccarver and morgan

User avatar
Tambourine Man
accepts no jimitators
Posts: 11382
Joined: April 21 06, 3:31 pm
Location: I Read the News Today Oh, boy

Answers with "Prince" Joe Henry Part 3

Post by Tambourine Man »

GRB: Describe yourself as a player, and please share how you got the nickname "Prince" Joe Henry.

Joe Henry: Okay, that's after I was injured in organized ball. The injury that I sustained happened to my left knee on a double play. A white kid in the Philadelphia Phillies organization went across the bag and caught my knee. And down I went. That's when the injury occurred. After I was taken to the hospital and was supposedly ready to play again......Once I started playin', I began to favor my knee and still tried to throw that ball across the infield as hard as I had originally.

GRB: And you were a second baseman at that time?

Joe Henry: I was a third baseman. I got away from second base when with the Memphis Red Sox. All the rest of my playin' time was at third base. By continuing to play, I messed up my right arm. People always considered me to have a rifle-like arm. I used to tease around at third base, and knock balls down, and jump up get'em, and hit the first baseman belt-high. It was nothin' but jumpin' across the infield. I messed up my right arm by doing that. So after I was out of baseball in 1954, I played in an all-star game with Mr. Johnson.

GRB: Josh Johnson?

Joe Henry: Josh Johnson. He had a team, and the team was named the Metropolitan All-Stars. We played a game at Stag Park in Belleville. Ted Savage was playin' second base. I played in that game and got about three hits that night but I didn't have any hard plays. I could come in for a ball, pick it up, keep runnin', and then throw the runner out. I could throw it from the side or some other way to get it there. That night after the game, Buddy Downs, who was the traveling secretary for the Indianapolis Clowns...He talked to me after the game and told me how well I had performed. He started askin' me to come back to the league with the Indianapolis Clowns. After I told him that I was finished as a ballplayer, he said, "Aw no! Give us a chance first." So in '55, I decided to go to spring training with the Indianapolis Clowns. By that time the Clowns had gotten out of the Negro League and started traveling independently, like the Indianapolis Clowns, the New York Black Yankees, just like the Harlem Globetrotters did...Like I said, with the abilities that I had left, I could partly play the game as a modified ballplayer and put on a show! I just started originating all kinds of gimmicks and everything. I had the top hat and tails. Well, Ed Hamman, with some publicity that I didn't know about...It was in the papers, "Prince" Joe Henry.

GRB: So Ed Hamman gave you the name?

Joe Henry: Right! So I'm wonderin', "Where in the hell did this come from?" And Ed said that I felt like baseball was a gentleman's game and I strolled to the plate with the top hat and tails on. That's the way it started! I started playin' in the pants with the coat on, and they began to get worn down and raggedy. That's how I got that name, "Prince" Joe Henry.

GRB: What were some of your antics?

Joe Henry: I originated antics that "Goose" Tatum called when I was with him in 1958 on the Detroit Clowns; he called the things that I was doing "gems". I've got a great big write-up around here somewhere. The ideas and all that he came up with, like the tuxedo, top hat on, and strollin' away from first base once on base. The pitcher would try to turn to pick me off, but I would have a distance that was safe enough to know I could get back. Rather than try to slide back, I would just take a pratfall directly on my back towards the bag. I would kickoff with my spikes in the ground just like I was tryin to propel myself back to the bag with the top hat on touching the bag.

GRB: So the top hat was what would touch the bag?

Joe Henry: That's right! I did a lot of things. I had already started wearin’ my pants down to my ankles. That came about because the softball uniforms were different from the baseball uniforms. They would be hangin’ to your ankles. So I started wearin’ my pants real low down to my ankles. I’d turn my back to the pitcher, and by timing his delivery when he turned the ball loose, I would swing around at the plate and take a cut at the ball. And there have been several times that I hit homeruns, and I didn’t know the ball was going out! Then I would slap the catcher’s hands, slap the umpire’s hands, and go over to the stands and start a conversation with one of the fans and then jog around the bases. So I started that kinda’ stuff before Reggie Jackson even came into the picture. There were several things that I did, ya know. That’s a hard job! There were newspaper clippings and things across the countries that were rating me, “Next to the fabulous Reese “Goose” Tatum!” When I was with Goose, I’d pull all kinds of things. And I would always go right back to Goose, because Goose had taught me all those things. Then Goose would get in on the act with me. Like, he’d put a little nail into the top of a bat, and he would have a baseball fixed in some sort of way that it had a hole in it. He and I would get on the field, and try the balancing act by putting the ball on top of the bat so it would stay there. And the people would get tied up in that. Every time it would seem that we were takin’ that ball all the way up, they’d start clappin’ and hollerin’ but it would roll off. About that time, you could hear the crowd sayin, “Ohhhhhh”!

GRB: So they didn’t know there was a nail in there?

Joe Henry: No. Then, after you’d do that several times, you’d try the same way, but you’d put the ball over the nail. And when you’d start goin’ up, and the ball remained there, people would start clappin’ and hollerin’, and carryin’ on! When you succeeded in keeping that ball on the knob of that bat, you’d just lean the bat across your shoulder with the ball still on it and start walkin’ away!

GRB: Showin'em the trick!

Joe Henry: That's right! I had a lot of fun doin' those things. It was just really, really, really nice. I got all kinds of publicity from the things I was doing, and people wanted to know where I'd come up with those things. I did many, many, many things, ya know.

GRB: Oh, yeah?

Joe Henry: Yeah! At that time, you weren't permitted to wear a mustache. So at 20 years old...Hell, I didn't have a mustache and my sister told me how to make a mustache. You'd take one of those wooden matches, burn it, then go get some water, and put the match down in the water. Then, from that burnt part, I'd just make me a mustache! I did everything that an ordinary ballplayer couldn't do. Those ideas that I thought up and put into motion, like hidin' my glove up under the inside of the coat. I might take a heck of a cut at the ball, and after takin that heck of a cut at a ball...I would do that purposely. And then, on the next pitch, I would slide my hand into the glove up under the coat so nobody in the stands could see it. So then, when the pitcher would turn the ball loose, I would snatch my arm out with the glove on my hand and catch the ball! And then, I'd throw it up into the air and fungo it!

GRB: (Laughing) Okay! As if you were hitting outfield practice. I know what you're talking about.

Joe Henry: Heh, there were so many things, ya know! I'd get a big ole' pair of women's drawers four sizes too big for the lady, and I'd get in argument with the umpire. Then, the umpire would take off after me, and he's right behind me while I'm headin' for the stands runnin'. And by the time I'd get over to the stands, I'd jump into the stands where a lady was seated. Then, when I'd come back up, I'd have them big drawers in my hand holdin'em up! And people just cried. They just cried.

GRB: Were the umpires in on the stunt?

Joe Henry: Well, he would only run me in the direction I was headin' to jump over into the stands. Ya see, when I'd jump over, I would go down to the floor out of sight of most of the fans. Then, when I'd come back up off the floor, I would have those big drawers spread out, showin'em around to the people! Sometimes, I got a pretty big kick out of that myself!

GRB: I bet!

Joe Henry: I pulled that on one lady, and she reached up under her dress to see that she still had her drawers on! (Laughs) When I stood up and started spreadin them drawers around, she looked at me and she said, "You'd better get away from me before I knock you out!" You would be surprised at some of those ladies. They wanted pictures and everything. It's a wonderful thing when a person has the ability to make people laugh.

GRB: Do you have any humorous stories from your playing days that you'd like to share?

Joe Henry: Uh, quite a few. Upon undertaking the showmanship with the Indianapolis Clowns, I happened to not be the only showman to keep people laughin'. You see, the Indianapolis Clowns had sideline entertainers. They had a pair of guys at that time. One was named Richard "King Tut" King and the other was Spec Bebop. He and Tut, a former baseball player, put on the show years before I arrived with the Indianapolis Clowns. My thing came after the injury, and after the fact that I'd acknowledged that I could not play 100% as a baseball player. That's where I came in. I decided that I would do certain things, and the top hat and tails were synonymous with the Indianapolis Clowns.

GRB: So you weren't the only one who wore those?

Joe Henry: Heh, no, I'd have to clear that up. Nobody ever did what I did in puttin' on a show with the top hat and tails, Bermuda shorts, the fisherman's cap.....Nobody ever did anything like that with the Indianapolis Clowns. For instance, whenever Goose Tatum, the former Harlem Globetrotters original showman, performed with the Indianapolis Clowns, at times he might put on the coat and tails, ya know. He might run out on the field, but after a play or two he would pull it off. That was it. The type of showmanship that King Tut and Spec Bebop did...You had two side performers like that. One was named "Hot Dog" Bobo Nickerson. Then there was Ed Hamman, part owner of the Indianapolis Clowns. Anyway, these were sideline showmen. At on time, and this was long before I came to be an Indianapolis Clowns player; they had a one man band sideline performer. I used to get a big kick out of some of the things that I was told by older guys, when playing with the Clowns. The one man band would holler out at the audience and ask, "Hey, have you ever heard of Paul Whiteman?" And when people hollered back, "Yeah.", he would answer, "Well, I'm Paul Blackman!" (Both laugh) It was all of these types of thing that pre-dated sideline entertainers like Fredbird and all of these different types that you hear of today. There was just so much entertainment along with Negro League baseball games that the people really had many things to enjoy themselves with.

GRB: What was the crowd like? What was the demographic makeup of the crowd? Was it mostly white people, mostly black people?

Joe Henry: No, no. It was mostly black people at all times. And it's a shame to say this, in a supposedly civilized society, but whites in the ballpark were cordoned off! So where blacks were in the majority, there were whites, but they were in a little section as when blacks would attend something that would be viewed by predominantly white people.

GRB: Almost a role reversal in a way?

Joe Henry: That's right! There was no mixin' up with blacks and whites together. It was like they said, colored section. And when it was predominantly black, white section. Yeah, that's typical.

GRB: Were there any good clubhouse pranks that you witnessed?

Joe Henry: No. I mean, guys were always pullin' little stunts and things that really went unnoticed. It was just to get a laugh right then and there, ya know.

GRB: That was it?

Joe Henry: (Laughs) I'll tell ya about a bus stunt from when I was with the Memphis Red Sox! My buddy, who joined the Memphis Red Sox the same time that I did in 1950...His name was Ollie Brantley; He and I were the only two kids to make the team, and we didn't start traveling with the team at that point. It was in Birmingham, Alabama, where Memphis was playing, that the manager called back for Ollie and I to board a bus and meet the team in Memphis. Being kinda' young, at one time we were walkin' around a town where we were to play, and we happened to walk upon a novelty store. In this novelty store, as we checked things out, we found a small bottle of stink perfume. So we decided while traveling that night, to open that stink perfume and just wave it around in the bus. Because that's about all you had to do and then put the cap back on it! (Laughs) This was when there were different nationalities on the bus like Panamanians, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and black Americans. And one night, as we were ridin' along, the whole crew on the bus was asleep. It had kinda' cooled off just a little bit while we traveled. So we took that stink perfume out, took the top cap off, and sprayed it around, just kinda' shook it around a little bit. Then we put the cap back on right quick and acted as if we were asleep. That stuff started moving all over the bus and you heard a mixture of languages! They thought that somebody was just lettin' go! And Ollie and I would act as if we were sleepin' while we were doing everything to hold our laughing back! All of these people started complaining like, "Who's that nasty sap sucker that's sittin' back there and openly, without any kinda' morals, lettin' go things like that?!?" (Laughing) And what was comical to us was that you could hear those side windows on the bus goin', "Plam, Plam, Plam", as they were opening'em' up, so that air could come through! (Laughs) After we finished the first time, and things cleared out, and the windows went back closed, we waited awhile until everything got settled down. And then we did the same thing! I mean, there was some cursing, and our "chauff" stopped the bus. Then he said, "Look, wait a minute! Whoever is doing this, if you've got to go to a restroom, I'll stop at a service station and get the bus filled up!" That's through the south, and whenever the bus was gassed up, we couldn't go into the restrooms. So that's the way we could get some patronage by the bus being gassed. And so, one guy on the bus said, "Ya know, I hate to feel like this, but whoever is doing this, point him out to me and I'll bust his ass wide open!" (Both laugh) I mean, Ollie and I just cramped from laughing so hard to ourselves and tryin' to keep it from everybody else!

GRB: And did they ever catch you?

Joe Henry: Noooooo! The next day, we'd be walkin' around in the town we were playin' in, and we would be leaning on each other laughin', ya know! We were just about afraid to tell anybody about it, because we had just joined the team. And heck, we didn't know what would happen if they found out. It was little acts like that which were very, very, comical.

GRB: Some inside jokes there.

Joe Henry: Right! There was one thing that happened to me in Columbus, Mississippi. There was an umpire that didn't want to be bothered with that showmanship of mine, no matter how the crowds in the stands rolled over, howling', and laughin', and everything. So this particular night, I decided to get some laughs off this umpire, and he let me know right off the jump, "Don't play that stuff with me!" That didn't mean anything to me! I would try to ease around up on him and every time he would put his hands on his hips. So he would stare, just stop and stare at me. So I would head in another direction, ya know, just entertaining the crowd. Later on I came back while he was tryin' to concentrate on umpiring, and messed with him again. And after I bothered him, he broke at me and I started runnin'! I ran from home plate, and started slowin' down as I neared first base. Then, I heard the guys on the bench hollerin', "Run! Run!" (Laughs) Well, I happened to look around, and this umpire was right behind me! I carried him to that right field wall runnin'! And the guys were talkin' about how that tail of the tuxedo coat was standin' straight out as I was runnin'! (Both laugh) When I got back to the bench, even some of the guys on the other team were on the ground!

GRB: So he chased you all the way out to right field?

Joe Henry: Yes, he did! When he went beyond first base, he was serious, ya know! Had he caught me, the fans might've really had some entertainment! This guy had muscles. (Laughs) I'm tellin' ya, he was a big dude! And after he couldn't catch me beyond first base, he just stood with his hands on his hips watchin' me run! The people in the stands, I mean, they were crying! When I got to the bench, the fellas' on the team were crying on the ground from laughing so hard! I'm tellin' ya, we talked about that on the bus that night!

GRB: So when something like that happened, were you basically ejected from the game from then on?

Joe Henry: Who me?

GRB: Yeah!

Joe Henry: No! I was puttin' on the show, and that's what the people wanted to see! Ya see, I would do the showin', but the Clowns had a monster of a team. They had a powerful team. The Clowns, at one time, had won championships and everything. The Clowns had some dynamite teams. Let me say this; when I went to Memphis, there were 10 teams still in the league. Do you know that I saw, right there, the power of the Negro League? And for every one of those teams that were leftover, eight of those guys could've gone to those Major League teams. The Kansas City Monarchs; the Memphis Red Sox; the Birmingham Black Barons; the Baltimore Elite Giants......Junior Gilliam and Joe Black were with the Elite Giants at that time. Any eight guys, from any of those teams, could've gone straight to the Major League locker rooms and put on a uniform, like Ernie Banks did with Chicago.

GRB: Do you sense that the history of the Negro Leagues has been underappreciated? If so, what do you think can be done to preserve that history so that younger generations can learn it as well?

Joe Henry: Well, I think that the Negro League Baseball Museum has done one tremendous job. That is one history, preserved up to this point that will never die. I mean, it is something else. Ya know when they had their last voting about blacks entering the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, I wrote in one of my articles that I wouldn't vote for any single guy. For instance, Buck O'Neil or one of the other players...I cast my vote for the Negro League Baseball Museum to be placed in the Hall of Fame. And by placing the Negro League Baseball Museum in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, any Negro League baseball player could be acknowledged. Everybody would have been mentioned, in some kinda' way, as a part of the Hall of Fame.

GRB: I understand you've attended some reunions at the Negro League Baseball Museum. How have those been for you?

Joe Henry: Oh, you mean in Kansas City?

GRB: Yes, sir.

Joe Henry: I'll tell ya what; I haven't gotten over attending those Negro League reunions.

GRB: Great memories?

Joe Henry: Oh, I mean, the time that was had.....I met some of the older guys that I'd never met before. It was an experience that made chills come all over me. The last one in 2000 was very good. Charley Pride attended both. He's a former Negro Leaguer.

GRB: And a country musician.

Joe Henry: Right. Tommy Lasorda was master of ceremonies. I just can't name the different people. Hank Aaron was there, and Hank Aaron is an alumnus of the Indianapolis Clowns. There is so much history associated with the Negro League. I happened to be flippin' the television channels last night, and the Pirates and Cardinals were playin' in Pittsburgh. The Pirates wore the uniforms of the Homestead Grays, and the Cardinals wore the uniforms of the St. Louis Stars.

GRB: Do you like when Major League Baseball does acknowledgments like that?

Joe Henry: Well, it's a good advertisement for the Negro League.

GRB: In February of '2005, Mike Seely, who is currently a writer for the Seattle Weekly, did a profile piece on you and your struggles with the Major League Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.). Could you walk us through that process?

Joe Henry: Well, I had no knowledge of the latter pensions being given to the former Negro Leaguers. I happened to be reading the Belleville News-Democrat, and saw where they had a million dollars that they were going to give to former Negro Leaguer's in need. It was specifically stated, by Bud Selig, that this money was going to be given to guys who played at least parts of four seasons. That means, if you played one season, two seasons, three seasons, or the whole four seasons. And Major League Baseball began tying that up, in some kinda' way, with four consecutive seasons. I still have that paper. After reading that, I contacted Bud Selig's office, which was being run by some organization called B.A.T., and inquired about what was in the newspaper. And I was told that it was true. So Jim Martin sent me an application, and nobody could've been as honest as I was, and I sent it back. After I received his answer, I didn't qualify. Here I am, a player in1950, two years after Robinson went to the Dodgers, who knew of guys who played before and after Robinson. The league continued in '1948, '49, '50, and '51. That burned me! That's when I got a hold of Mike Seely at the Riverfront Times, and he did that story on me. And it took off. Jim Martin learned that I was ready to expose that whole sham, and it was a couple of St. Louis Post-Dispatch writers that let him know. Jim Martin contacted these Post-Dispatch writers, and this was before I knew Mike Seely at the Riverfront Times. He told them that he was sending me another application to have me fill out, and then he would give me the pension. And I told him, "No, I've got a letter that I'm going to give to you." So he told me that he wasn't in the business of correspondence, and that he was trying to give money to people who needed it. That application that I submitted let's you know about my financial background and everything. So he said to me, "You know, you're being belligerent." I said, "Call it what you may, but you will receive the letter." After I said that, he wanted me to fill the application out. I told him, "I feel worn out. You gave me your answer." So he was ready to give me the money for four years. I just told him, "Hey, just like Johnny Paycheck, when he sang Take this Job and Shove It; If you can't give a pension to all of these guys that played in the Negro League, and can prove that they played, take that pension and shove it!" That's when the battle started between Major League Baseball's Jim Martin and me.

GRB: Well, the funny thing about it is that if you hadn't left the Negro League to enter the minor leagues, you would've had the pension, wouldn't you?

Joe Henry: No. If there had been anybody more qualified than me, I couldn't find them. Ya know, after '1954, there were only four teams in the Negro League. They were the Birmingham Black Barons, the Memphis Red Sox, the Kansas City Monarchs, and the Indianapolis Clowns. And then the Clowns got out of the league after '1954. These guys that got the pension from Bud Selig and Jim Martin...They dealt with Bob Mitchell, a guy that supposedly played with the Kansas City Monarchs starting in '1954. After '1954, Ted Raspberry purchased the Kansas City Monarchs, and the guy [Mitchell] was playing with the team then. Hell, they tell me that when Ted Raspberry purchased the team, he sold every other ballplayer and even the bus. And nobody wanted this guy! Really, he didn't have any four years in. That's when Selig and them came up with the idea that '1957 was the end of the Negro League. That's how he got in there because he was still playing with the Kansas City Monarchs up until '1957. He played in '54, '55, '56,'57, and he wasn't due that money. If anything, he would've had one year in '1954, and he would have been excluded from the pension. They didn't follow suit. They didn't set parts of at least four years. At least he would've had one year, and then he would've been eligible for the pension. If the other years hadn't been added, he would've been out of there. Bud Selig didn't have any business telling anybody about when the Negro League ended because Selig didn't have any concern for the Negro League or its history.

GRB: Are there any other players that are in the same situation as you, who didn't get the pension due to the circumstances?

Joe Henry: Yes, and I was there playin' before any of these guys. Charley Pride made it very, very clear! He said, "I didn't want the money. I didn't need the money. But this one guy insisted that I take it. So I did and gave it to my brother." I'm just waiting for some good lawyer who wants to get his name out there across the nation. If a good lawyer were to take up the case, Major League Baseball would be too glad to pull pension money out of their back pockets and pay all these other guys. These men have played in the Negro League, and have been cut short because of Bud Selig cutting off the Negro League at a certain year.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read this interview! Contact information for B.A.T. can be found here.

User avatar
NPR & THT Contributor
Posts: 36130
Joined: April 18 06, 7:44 am
Location: Chocolate City

Post by JL21 »

Wow- Charley Pride played in the Negro Leagues. That's pretty cool.