Oh, What a Relief: Bill Henry
Bill Henry was a lanky, high-kicking left-hander who lasted 16 years in the major leagues … after making his first appearance in the big show at age 24.
He led the league in any pitching category only once. His 65 appearances for the Chicago Cubs in 1959 were the most in the National League that season. And though he never led the league in saves, saves are what kept him pitching until age 41. Henry knew how to close out a victory.
A Texas native, Henry was a star in basketball and track in high school. His high school didn’t have a baseball team. But the University of Houston did, and after one college season he signed with the Clarksdale (Mississippi) Planters in the Class C Cotton States League in 1948. He bounced the minor leagues for four years with a combined record of 44-45. He was acquired by the Boston red Sox and made his major league debut in 1952. He was used sparingly by the Red Sox, mostly as a starter, and was 15-20 with a combined earned run average of 3.80.
In January of 1957, the Red Sox traded Henry to the Chicago Cubs. After spending another season in the minors, Henry earned a place in the Cubs’ bullpen in 1958 (at age 30), going 5-4 with a 2.88 ERA and six saves. In 1959, he was 9-8 for the Cubs with a 2.68 ERA and 12 saves. In the off-season, the Cubs dealt Henry, Lee Walls and Lou Jackson to the Cincinnati Reds for Frank Thomas.
Henry had his best seasons pitching for the Reds. He combined with Jim Brosnan for an effective righty-lefty closing combination. In 1960, Henry led the Reds with 17 saves (Brosnan had 12). He also made his only All-Star appearance that season.
In 1961, the Reds bullpen was a vital contributor to the team’s pennant-winning season. Brosnan and Henry tied for the team lead in saves with 16 each. Henry led the team with a 2.19 ERA.
In 1962, Henry was 4-2 with 11 saves for the Reds, and led the team with 14 saves in 1963. In 1964, the arrival of Sammy Ellis and Billy McCool limited Henry to only 37 appearances and six saves. (Ellis led the Reds with 14.) Still, at age 36, Henry was consistently effective when he did get the chance to pitch, posting a 0.87 ERA on the season.
In 1965, the Reds traded Henry to the San Francisco Giants for pitcher Jim Duffalo. Henry lasted four years with the Giants, going 5-5 with a combined 3.08 ERA. He made brief stops in Pittsburgh and Houston before retiring in 1969.
For his career, Henry was 46-50 with a 3.26 ERA and 90 saves. He closed 253 games, more than half of his 483 career relief appearances. Henry’s 64 saves with the Reds are tenth-most among Reds relief pitchers all time.