The February/March 2020 edition of PressBox marked Jim Henneman’s eighth consecutive decade covering Baltimore sports in print. He spoke with PressBox about his high school and college days, how he got his start in the business, covering the Orioles for so long and how he’s remained involved in journalism to this day.
Henneman, an official scorer at Camden Yards, has written for PressBox since the publication’s inception in 2006. He has been a Baseball Hall of Fame voter for the past 39 years and is on the Hall of Fame’s Historical Oversight Committee, which puts together ballots for various Veterans Committees to vote on.
Before getting his start in journalism, Henneman played baseball at Calvert Hall. He was in the graduating class of 1953. When Henneman was a Cardinal, he pitched against future Baseball Hall of Famer Al Kaline, a Baltimore native who starred at Southern High School.
Jim Henneman: I did play against Kaline — never with much success, I might add. How do you pitch to Kaline? Very carefully, or high and outside. We had a good team our senior year. I pitched a game against him — one of the last games he played before he signed. We won the game. I don’t remember if the game was 3-2 or 4-3. But we walked him intentionally every time. There were a lot of scouts there, and they were pissed. To this day, we still kid about it. He always said I walked him four times. I keep saying, “It was only a seven-inning game. I think it was only three.” To be honest with you, I think it was only three but I’m really not 100 percent sure. The bottom line is I must’ve been getting the guys out behind him because I don’t think he scored that day. Winning that game was one of the highlights of my athletic career. He had beaten me up pretty much every other time I had faced him, so walking him was a pretty good strategy.
Henneman continued his education at Loyola, where he played basketball and baseball and ran cross country. During his junior year, he got a head start on what would become a decades-long career.
JH: At Loyola, I was on partial scholarship. Part of the deal was you had to play two sports. I played a little bit of basketball, ran a little bit of cross country, but baseball was primary. My third year there, they had what they then called a sports public relations director. They had a student who did that kind of work. Today, that would be a sports information director. But in those days, you just kind of did a lot of the paperwork. Lefty Reitz, who was the athletic director and my baseball coach, kind of eased me into that. So I did that for a year, my junior year into my senior year of college. Basically, I served as a sports information director for the school, primarily for basketball. Once the spring came around, I was off the hook so to speak. Did it spur me? I always had an interest somewhere. I just didn’t know exactly where. I was a big-time letter-writer. I used to write letters to the editor a lot of times. But I had no real formal training. I had on-the-job training, which I don’t regret.
Henneman fell ill with the rheumatic fever during his senior year of college (1957-58) and was out of school for three months. He originally intended to return to Loyola for his final year of baseball eligibility, but he decided to pursue a career in journalism instead. He started by doing part-time work at the Baltimore News-Post, which became the Baltimore News-American in the early 1960s. He worked there from 1958-1968. His first story was about Kaline, whom he had faced in high school.
JH: In 1958, the All-Star Game was here. The very first story that I ever wrote was about Al Kaline, of course a Baltimore boy who was playing in that All-Star Game and who I had pitched against in high school. It was a special section kind of a deal. I wish I still had a copy of it. I don’t. If anyone has a News-Post section of the All-Star Game in 1958, I would love to see it. I really would. That was the first story that I actually wrote, but it wasn’t the first story that was ever in print. I had a story with little league coaches and managers about how parents could help [their kids] by not being little league parents. That story was actually in print before the other story was. But that first year, I only did a couple of stories. Mainly, I just handled race results and ran copy, the little things.
Henneman ultimately became the No. 2 writer on the Orioles beat at the News-American, but he also covered a lot of college basketball and lacrosse in the area. One of the players he covered? Gary Williams, who played at Maryland from 1964-1967 before taking over as head coach in 1989.
JH: I covered teams that Gary Williams played on. It was a different game. All the papers in Baltimore paid more attention to the local schools than they did to the [Terps]. I covered Maryland for a lot of their games. I covered a lot of their home games, but we never covered the tournament, believe it or not. The Mason-Dixon Conference kind of brought in all the schools from the immediate Baltimore area and Virginia and so forth. That was actually the big coverage in basketball. I covered the Maryland teams when Bud Millikan was the coach there. Frank Fellows took over. Ultimately Lefty Driesell showed up. I had a lot of coverage of Maryland. I covered Gary for all his time there. He says he remembers me, but I kind of doubt it. It’s not like you got to develop any close relationships with the guys. But he was the guy that stuck out because he was the guy you knew from the get-go knew the game.
Henneman looks back fondly at his first stint with the News-American and is particularly thankful for the opportunity to work under sports editor John Steadman, who hired him.
JH: The News-American was a great experience because we were pretty much all local guys. Most everybody there was an on-the-job training guy. We got along great. We picked up for each other. We learned how to do everything. Frank Cashen, who ended up becoming the president of two Major League Baseball teams and working in the commissioner’s office, was technically the guy who broke me in. It was actually his place on the staff that I took. There are a lot of great memories. John Steadman, of course, he was key to my whole career. He believed in me from the get-go. Even after I left, he remained a dear friend until the day he died. Steadman and his wife, Mary Lee, were godparents to my second son, who is named after John. He just did a lot of favors for me as a friend but also looked out for me professionally and kicked me in the butt every once in a while. “Hey, you’ve got to be on your toes here. Keep an eye out for this, keep an eye out for that.” We didn’t have a lot of disagreements, but once or twice we probably went around a little bit. He just believed in me. I really think it’s because of his belief in me that I stuck it out during some of the rough stretches.
Henneman was the public relations director with the Baltimore Bullets from 1968-1973. He said he was the “jack of all trades, master of little” with the Bullets. During the 1968-69 season, center Wes Unseld averaged 13.8 points, 18.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists for Baltimore.
JH: Good memories. They had been a doormat team. I had the good fortune of going there the same year Wes Unseld went there. The team immediately started winning. I always used to tease him, “They were a last-place team until he and I got there.” We had a lot of fun with that. That was one of the great things. Wes Unseld is one of the great human beings in my lifetime. I loved the guy. He was a super guy. I knew all those other guys. Earl Monroe, Gus Johnson, Kevin Loughery, Fred Carter, Jack Marin, on and on and on and on. But Wes was one of the great human beings — and a great player. To this day, Rookie of the Year and MVP, only twice in the NBA history did that ever happen. The other time was Wilt Chamberlain. To this day, I think that was one of the most entertaining, exciting teams in NBA history. Earl and Gus could do the kinds of things they do today, and nobody ever rebounded better than Wes.
Henneman returned to the Baltimore News-American after the Bullets moved to Washington in 1973. He was the News-American‘s Orioles beat writer until 1979, then moved to The Baltimore Sun. He worked on the Orioles beat at The Sun from 1980-1995, after which he moved into what he called “semi-retirement.”
JH: It was at that point I moved into my official scoring role at the ballpark with MLB in 1997, which allowed me to stay engaged with the game. I had some talks about going to work for the various minor-league teams in the area, but for one reason or another it did not work out. Fortunately, PressBox came along at a good time for me. For me, it was a perfect to at least have a chance to continue writing on a somewhat regular basis. I always appreciated that. It gives me a place to stay involved. There won’t be a ninth decade of writing for me, but hopefully there are still a few thoughts to convey. There are a lot of curves in the road; there are a lot of bumps in the road. I had a few of those. It wasn’t always a joyride. Looking back on it, some of those bumps and some of those curves took me to certain places and enabled me to be where I am today. I’m still going to the ballpark — not three blocks away but not that far away. Just being able to maintain that contact has been a real blessing, it really has. Somehow or another, baseball was kind of my home from the get-go, from the time I was a pre-teenager. Not a whole lot of people get to do what they like to do for a lifetime.
By starting at the News-Post in 1958 and continuing to write about the Orioles to this day, Henneman has covered the Orioles for the vast majority of the team’s existence in Baltimore. He is generally regarded as the person who has seen more Orioles games than anyone in history. He wrote “60 Years Of Orioles Magic” as part of the club’s 60th anniversary season. What’s it been like to cover a team in eight different decades?
JH: It’s unusual. You hear once in a lifetime. It’s not once in a lifetime; it is a lifetime. I was 18 when the team came here. I would say from that point to here, the only manager that I hadn’t had some kind of contact with was the very first one and he was only here a year — Jimmy Dykes. A lot of people ask, “What’s your favorite game?” I always tell people the biggest thrill for me was the very first game. I had been really into the game. I watched the minor leagues. I grew up three blocks from Memorial Stadium, so I was up there. I was working in the clubhouse, so I was around it all the time. The idea that the big leagues were going to come and play games three blocks from my house — the first thing you find out is figure out how to get into games free. I worked as an usher, I did pretty much everything you could. I was up there a little. My address was 3913 Yolando Road. We moved there two months before Pearl Harbor.
In Henneman’s eyes, how has technology changed journalism? How has it changed how to research a story? How has social media changed how games are covered?
JH: You still researched it. You still looked up numbers. You still looked up things. You talked on the phone. The biggest adjustment for me is that I never really got used to tape recorders. I’ve always been a note-taker, making sure I got key notes down. I don’t think I ever misquoted anybody in my life. I’m sure I changed their words a little, but I always had key words and put sentences together. That’s kind of the way you grew up doing it. I learned how to do it, but I never really got as home with my tape recorder as I did with my notebook. That obviously is the biggest difference, there’s no question. First of all, most of the stuff after the game was done at the lockers. It wasn’t done in a room. None of the places ever had interview rooms after games. I don’t think I ever worked a game with an interview room on a daily basis. The World Series and stuff like that is a little bit different. That’s easily the biggest difference with the way things are today. Today you’re in competition with yourself a couple different ways. The one thing that I don’t like about what happens today is that we spend so much time trying to get on Twitter, trying to get on Facebook, trying to get on Instagram or whatever. It has to take you away from what your primary objective is, and that is to cover a story. You almost have to have three people doing some of these things. One person at the game today cannot cover it the way we used to cover it. That’s not saying things were better. I don’t mean it that way. But you just couldn’t do it. It’s impossible. You can’t do all the things that these people have to do today and keep up with what’s going on in front of you. You just can’t do it. I’m not a “good old days” kind of guy, but things are definitely different, and I have the utmost respect for the people who do this job today.
Henneman also answered some quick-hitting questions, like … who was the biggest character you’ve ever covered?
JH: Probably Jackie Brandt. He played center field for the Orioles for a good amount of time. There were more than a few of them, but I’d say Jackie was probably right there.
Who was the best defensive player you ever saw from the press box?
JH: I’m going to say Brooks Robinson. And trust me, I saw a lot of great defensive players from the press box, but I’d have to say Brooks. There are some other candidates, trust me.
Who put on the best batting practice show you ever saw?
JH: Maybe the best was Frank Howard in the Astrodome in Houston before the ’68 All-Star Game. I was behind the batting cage. All he did was hit fly balls I thought to center field, but they kept going over the fence. I was amazed. He was hitting pop flies that were going out. That was impressive.
Who was the Orioles manager you struck up the best friendship with?
JH: I’d have to say Earl Weaver. I knew Earl from when he was the Class B manager. I met him really the second year that I was in the business and he was managing Fox City Class B team and I was covering little leagues. I went to minor league spring training. I’d have to say Earl. I actually had a good relationship with Buck Showalter, but it wasn’t daily contact. It wasn’t the same. I had to deal with Earl every day. But I enjoyed being around Buck. Both of those guys liked to stay a step ahead, so it was fun trying to keep up with them.