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The Passing of a Counterfeit Bill
Rick Reilly
September 24, 2007
FORMER MAJOR LEAGUE pitcher Bill Henry died a couple of weeks ago. He found out about it while sitting in his favorite chair.
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September 24, 2007

The Passing Of A Counterfeit Bill

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FORMER MAJOR LEAGUE pitcher Bill Henry died a couple of weeks ago. He found out about it while sitting in his favorite chair.

What happened 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, at 83.

This was news to Betty Lou.

"Bill didn't pass away in Florida," she said. "He's sittin' right next to me."

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.

Besides, 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 was $17,000."

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.

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