LEAGUE pitcher Bill Henry died a couple of weeks ago. He found out about it
while sitting in his favorite chair.
was, the phone rang in his Deer Park, Texas, home and his wife, Betty Lou,
picked it up. A baseball historian named David Lambert was calling to offer his
condolences on the passing of her husband in Lakeland, Fla., of a heart attack,
This was news to
pass away in Florida," she said. "He's sittin' right next to
Turns out the
Bill Henry who died had been passing himself off as the one still alive for
some 20 years. The counterfeit Bill Henry's wife believed he'd been a big
leaguer. His family believed it. Their friends did too.
Hard not to,
really. Both men were 6' 2", lefthanded, square-jawed and squinty-eyed.
"I look at their pictures and think, Dad looks more like the real Bill
Henry [did in his playing days] than the real Bill Henry does," says the
dead man's stepdaughter-in-law, Jeanine Hill-Cole.
counterfeit Bill's stories sounded so real, all about his 16-year career as an
All-Star reliever with six major league teams in the 1950s and '60s. Twice a
year he would even address a Baseball, Humor and Society class at Florida
Southern College and tickle the students with stories about barnstorming with
Satchel Paige. "Heck, I'd make more money with Satchel than I ever did in
the regular season!" he'd chuckle. "Most I ever made in the big leagues
The man had
cojones the size of pumpkins. When the Detroit Tigers were in Lakeland for
spring training, he'd go to the games and mingle with the old-timers. He'd even
get the big backslap from former Tigers managers Sparky Anderson and Ralph
Houk. "Tells you how dumb baseball people are," says Anderson.
Sure, every now
and then somebody would ask counterfeit Bill why the birth date on his baseball
card, Oct. 15, 1927, was different from the one he told people, Feb. 1, 1922.
He'd laugh and say he did it to make scouts think he was younger. The truth
was, "Bill was just a good town-team pitcher," says Charles Carter,
counterfeit Bill's childhood friend from back in Moberly, Mo.
Anyway, after he
died, the Lakeland Ledger did a nice obit, and the AP picked it up and it ran
all over the country. That's when the real Bill's phone started howling.