Henry, Snake

Primary Positions: First base, pinch hitter
Birthplace: Waynesville

First, Middle Names:  Frederick Marshall
Nickname: Snake

Date of Birth:  July 19, 1895   Date and Place of Death: Oct. 12, 1987, Wendell, NC
Burial: Montlawn Memorial Park, Raleigh, NC

High School: Wendell High School, Wendell, NC
College: Barton College, Wilson, NC

Bats: L Throws: L  Height and Weight: 6-0, 170
Debut Year: 1922        Final Year: 1923          Years Played: 2
Team and Years: Boston Braves, 1922-23

Career Summary
G          AB       H          R          RBI       HR       BA.      OBP.    SLG.     WAR
29       75       14        6          7            0          .187     .218      .267      -0.6

Fred Henry played in 29 games in the major leagues, stretched over parts of two seasons, and he didn’t do much in any of them, hitting a measly .187. His career Wins Above Replacement of -0.6 is among the lowest of any North Carolinian who played in the majors.[1] It means that his teams lost almost a full game over his short career with him in the lineup.

Yet, the man with the flimsy big-league resume was among the best minor-league players in history. During his 25 years in the minors, playing for 20 different clubs in 13 different leagues, Henry amassed almost 3,400 hits. He batted over .300 in more than half the seasons he played, finishing with a .304 average. His .345 in 1930 was an International League record until Jackie Robinson surpassed it 16 years later by a mere four points. Henry is among the career minor-league leaders in hits, games played, doubles and triples, an enviable tally that should earn him a spot in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

Lillie and Marshall Henry had nine children, enough to fill a lineup card. Frederick Marshall, appropriately, was fourth, in the clean-up spot. He was born in 1895 in Waynesville, North Carolina, but the family moved halfway across the state to Granville County by the time he was five years old. By 1910, the Henrys had settled in Wendell in adjoining Wake County where Marshall was a lumber dealer and Lillie a milliner.

Fred played baseball at Wendell High School and then went off to what’s now Barton College, a private, religious school in nearby Wilson, North Carolina. After graduating in 1914, he signed his first minor-league contract with the Patriots, a Class D club in Greensboro, North Carolina.

He crisscrossed the continent over the next two-and-a-half decades moving up the minor leagues – from the Petersburg Goobers in Virginia and the San Antonio Bears in Texas to the Montreal Royals and Toronto Maple Leafs in Canada – and back down again to the Triplets in Binghamton, New York, and the Serpents in Tarboro, North Carolina. Along the way, he challenged for batting titles, won two Most-Valuable Player awards and was a perennial All-Star.

On one of his first stops, at the Wheatshockers in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1917, Henry acquired the nickname that would follow him for the rest of his life. At a dinner to start the season, pitcher Ed Hovlik thought it important that all his teammates have sobriquets. He noted the agility and quickness of their new first baseman. “He presented me as ‘Rattlesnake’ Henry. I lost the rattle part of the handle,” Henry remembered. “Not a very pleasant-sounding name, is it?”[I] The name even followed him to Cuba, where he played years later. There, he was Senor Reptil.

Henry was hitting .343 for the Class A Pelicans in New Orleans in 1922 when the Boston Braves signed him late in the season. He finished out the season playing first base for the National League club while hitting .197. His limited engagement apparently didn’t impress anyone on the Braves because aging veteran Stuffy McInnis was signed to play first for the new season. Henry asked to be traded if he wasn’t going to play regularly. The Braves sent him back to New Orleans the next day.

He remained in the minors for almost two more decades. His last stop was in Kinston, North Carolina, playing and managing the Class D Serpents. The team lost the first 15 games of the 1939 season. The frustration became too much for Henry. In a game against the Greenies of nearby Greenville, North Carolina, he attacked an umpire over a call at third base, kneeing him in the groin, knocking him down, and then “stomping on his feet,” according to the judge at the suspension hearing. He threatened “to get” the umpire as he was escorted off the field.[II] Suspended for 120 days, Henry chose to retire. Ironically, the Eagles righted themselves and made it into the Coastal Plain League playoffs, losing in the final round.

By then, Henry was back in Richmond, Virginia, where he lived with his wife, Mary Jane. They were part owners of a popular, local grill in the early 1940s and then managed hotels, first in Florida and then in southeastern Virginia.

They moved back to Wendell, where Mary Jane died of colon cancer in 1963. Henry remarried in 1972 when he was 77 years old. He was 92 when he died in 1985.

[1] Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, is an advanced statistic that attempts to summarize a player’s total contributions to his team by estimating how many games a team can be expected to win with the player in the lineup instead of an average player coming off the bench or called up from the minors. The player’s value to his team accumulates over the course of his career. The resulting number is expressed in plus or minus games. See Tarheel Boys of Summer Top 100 for a fuller explanation.

[I] Siegel, Morris. “’Snake’ Henry Settles Down After 25 Years of Baseball.” Times Dispatch (Richmond, VA), March 24, 1941.
[II] “’Snake’ Henry Is Ousted for Attack Upon Empire.” The Enterprise (Williamston, NC), May 23, 1939.