Primary Position: Relief pitcher
First, Middle Names: Henry Rudolph
Date of Birth: June 15, 1904 Date and Place of Death: Feb. 4, 1974, Jacksonville, Fla.
Burial: Restlawn Memorial Park, Jacksonville, Fla.
High School: Undetermined
College: Did Not Attend
Bats: L Throws: R Height and Weight: 6-3, 226
Debut Year: 1933 Final Year: 1936 Years Played: 2
Teams and Years: Philadelphia Athletics, 1933; Brooklyn Dodgers, 1936
G W L Sv ERA IP SO WAR
15 1 3 0 6.23 13.0 10 -0.7
The called him Big Hank back home on the Henderson Gamecocks, a 6-3, 226-pound farm boy from nearby Franklin County who was the rawest of rookies, but he threw hard enough to impress the Old Tutor himself, Connie Mack. Henry Winston’s rise to the baseball stratosphere was nothing short of meteoric. His descent, however, was almost as rapid. Winston appeared in just 15 major-league games over parts of two seasons, walking almost two batters in every inning he pitched. He was soon back in the depths of the low minor leagues where he also umpired a bit while keeping order on the streets as a cop.
Henry was one of seven children Edward and Bettie Winston raised on the family farm in Youngsville, a small community near the Virginia border. He helped his father on the farm until around 1930 when he moved to Raleigh and worked as a fireman. Winston had married Lida Murdock the previous year. They would have one child, a son, who was born in Davidson County in 1932. The couple would divorce three years later.
While living in Raleigh, Winston was introduced to baseball. Unlike most boys growing up in that era, he didn’t play in high school or on youth teams. He told a newspaper reporter in 1934 that he was playing catch with Raleigh friends who were on a semipro team. “They thought I could throw pretty hard,” Winston said, “and one of them asked if I wouldn’t pitch the next game for them.”[I]
He did and won. “After that they had to take the ball away from me to keep me from trying to pitch every day,” Winston remembered.[II]
After a couple of years with the Henderson team in the old Piedmont League, a low Class D minor league, Winston jumped to an independent, semipro team in Elizabeth City for more money. He was 22-1 in 1933 when Mack signed him to pitch for his Philadelphia Athletics.
The 29-year-old Winston was standing on the mound at Shibe Park a week later in the next to the last game of the American League season. His experience had so far consisted of throwing to shopkeepers, textile workers, brick masons, and other part-time ballplayers. He was now expected to face Bucky Waters, Joe Judge and fellow North Carolinian and future Hall of Famer Rick Ferrell and the Boston Red Sox. The A’s were in third place and going nowhere but home in a couple of days, and the Sox had already scored seven runs when Winston entered the game with one out in the third inning. There was no Hollywood ending. Winston would surrender five more runs, walking six in the process, before leaving the mound in the ninth in a 12-1 loss.
He was back in the bushes the following year and played for a variety of semipro teams before the Brooklyn Dodgers gave him another shot in 1936. Winston didn’t distinguish himself on a seventh-place team that finished 25 games out of first. With an ERA over 6.00, Winston was shipped to the Elmira, New York, in the Brooklyn farm system to start the new season. He would play for two other minor-league teams in 1937 before leaving professional baseball.
Winston moved to Gainesville, Florida, sometime before World War II and worked for the city’s police department. After the war, he also umpired in the minor leagues in Florida.
His obituary in 1974 notes that he was a retired government employee and had married again because he had a surviving spouse, Georgie Pope.[III]
[I] “Henry Winston May Remain With A’s.” The Independent (Elizabeth City, NC), March 23, 1934.
[III] “Henry R. Winston.” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), February 10, 1974.