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Saturday, January 3, 2009

R.I.P. Prince Joe Henry: The Passing of a Sports Legend

Posted By on Sat, Jan 3, 2009 at 1:35 PM

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It's with a heavy heart that I pass along news of the death of Joe Henry. The former Negro League baseball player died early Friday morning after suffering several weeks of ill health.

"Prince" Henry, as Joe was known on the ball diamond, played in the Negro Leagues throughout the 1950s, most notably for the Memphis Red Sox and the Indianapolis Clowns -- baseball's equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters. For the past three decades Henry has lived in a small mobile home in Brooklyn, Illinois, with his devoted and loving wife, Lula Henry.

I recall spending an afternoon with Henry a few years back as he lay on a threadbare couch (debilitated as he was with acute arthritis) inside his trailer. Henry entertained me with dozens of stories of his playing days, though he was hardly a one-dimensional ex-athlete. Our conversation also veered into politics, food and religion. 

From 2005 to 2007, the opinionated Henry was a regular contributor to Riverfront Times, penning an advice column titled, "Ask a Negro Leaguer." In 2004, former RFT scribe Mike Seely wrote an award-winning profile on Henry's life and fight to earn a pension from Major League Baseball. Henry finally won his battle last November when MLB agreed to pay the impoverished former ballplayer an $833-a-month pension.

This past June Henry was again recognized when the St. Louis Cardinals ceremoniously drafted him as part of an MLB effort to honor players of this vanishing era of baseball. This fall, Henry was further honored when his grandson, Sean Muhammad, compiled a book, Princoirs, that includes Henry's advice columns and other tales.

Arrangements for a celebration of Henry's life are still being made. Muhammad tells RFT that part of the ceremony will be the renaming of a street in Brooklyn in Henry's honor. I'll keep you updated as further plans unfold.

P.S. Here's a link to Mike Seely's thoughts on his friend, Joe Henry.  

-- Chad Garrison  

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