Orioles Name Press Box After Jim Henneman, Dean of Baltimore Baseball Writers

The beloved past president of the Baseball Writers' Association of America has covered the O’s since the 1960s.

Jim Henneman’s history with the Orioles goes way back. The first O’s game he attended was the team’s first-ever home game at Memorial Stadium on April 15, 1954. He was a high school pitcher at Calvert Hall at the time, and his biggest dream was that Baltimore would get a big-league club again. To this day, he calls that Opening Day the biggest baseball thrill of his life.

Just four years later, he was reporting on the team on an occasional basis as a Baltimore News American “copy boy.” In 1963, he joined the News American’s Opening Day coverage team for the first time, along with legendary sports editor John Steadman and beat writer Neal Eskridge.

His assignment took a strange turn that afternoon, however. The home team, the Washington Senators, had forgotten to supply a batboy. So Henneman, a former clubhouse assistant as a teenager with the old minor-league Orioles, got called in to pinch-hit.

It was a memorable, if not particularly auspices, moment for a fledging baseball writer—but a career was in motion.

Henneman eventually joined The Baltimore Sun, was named president of the Baseball Writers’ Association of Americawhere he still helps select veteran Hall of Fame candidatesand later served as the Orioles’ primary official scorer for 23 years. He joined PressBox as a columnist after its launch, where he continues to cover the Orioles (as well as occasionally for this magazine) into his 88th year.

Even with a stint as the Baltimore Bullets public relations director, he managed to hit a personal milestone this winter, covering  the Birds in spring training for the 50th time.

Like the late Brooks Robinson, who lent the now 88-year-old Henneman his extra pair of cleats for his batboy debut, there is not a person to be found in Baltimore with a bad word to say to about the warm, ever-gracious, ever-professional “Henny.”

On Saturday, the Orioles officially named the nest up behind home plate—where sportswriters watch, dissect, and report the comings and goings on the Camden Yards diamond—The Jim Henneman Press Box.

“Words cannot possibly express the feelings that I have,’’ Henneman told the gathering of friends and colleagues, including Hall-of-Famer Jim Palmer, whom he covered as a 20-year-old phenom on the championship 1966 club. “I hope that each and every one of you, someday, can have something like the feeling that I have right now.

“Seeing all these people who have been here through this career, this journey,” he continued, welling up with emotion, “means the world to me.”

Palmer ribbed him about scoring an error as a hit once and thereby inflating his earned run average, which Henneman quickly parried. “He might be right” Henneman responded, “but you know there’s some guy out there saying he hit .267 hitter instead of .266, so that works.”

Above: Henneman poses with Jim Palmer; Reporters record Henneman's remarks during the dedication ceremony. —Kevin Allen

Henneman, who has been battling health issues, said he still looks forward to coming to the ballpark. He added that the sport he fell in love with as a kid—and being able to mix with fellow sportswriters—keeps him young at heart, even after covering, by his estimation, more than 5,000 games. Although, he hasn’t been able get to the Yard as often he would like recently.

“They have my name up there [on the wall] and I suggested to somebody that if they want to put an expiration date under it, I’ll understand,’’ he said with a chuckle, “just as long as it doesn’t expire before I do.”

After the dedication, the lefthander took the field and delivered the ceremonial first pitch before the Orioles, fittingly, shutout the Oakland A’s, 7-0.

Henneman threw the ceremonial first pitch Saturday. —Kevin Allen

“When I decided to start PressBox, he was the was the first person I talked to about covering baseball and the first person I hired back in 2005,” said PressBox founder Stan Charles, who was on hand to celebrate the occasion. “He gave us instant credibility.”

Charles praised the O’s, in particular their media relations team, for honoring Henneman. “Usually, when teams name their press box, it’s after a public relations director,” Charles said. “Henny is one of us.”

Henneman also wrote 60 Years of Orioles Magic, the team’s 60th anniversary book, which was published in 2015.  “He was the only person I had in mind who could write it,” said Bill Stetka, team historian and Director of Alumni Relations. “If he said no, it would not have happened. There was no Plan B.”

—Kevin Allen

Former Sun baseball writer and current ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian first met Henneman in 1979 while covering baseball for The Washington Star. He praised Henneman’s astute observation, as well as his humble nature.

“As far as baseball writers, there has never been anyone ever better at picking up the subtle details of a game—a player who is an elite slider on the base paths, a pitcher with a great move to first base, a centerfielder with a terrific first step to the ball,” Kurkjian said. “He has always understood how to play the game and that’s because he played it, too, and he’s ambidextrous. (Henneman also pitched at Loyola College, now Loyola University Maryland.)

“And that hasn’t changed. He can still breakdown a game better than anyone else. He’s ageless. And, yes, I also don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Henny.”