1912: The Man from Denmark

Olaf Henriksen in his rookie season (1911)

As most of you know, the Boston Red Sox won the 1912 American League Pennant, their first since 1904. Then they went on to win the World Series in dramatic fashion. Their outfield of Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker, and Harry Hooper consistently ranks as one of the premier outfields in Major League history and is frequently ranked as the best in the Deadball Era. With an outfield like that the backup outfielder tends to get lost in the shuffle. Olaf Henriksen, the backup in 1912, is one of those, even though he had a critical hit in the final game of the 1912 World Series.

Henriksen was born in Denmark in 1888, the only Major Leaguer born in Denmark. He was still young when his family arrived in the United States. He discovered baseball, liked it, and best of all was good at it. He joined the New England League team in Brockton, Massachusetts and by 1911 was with the Red Sox. He was the backup outfielder in an era when there tended to be only one. He was considered primarily a left fielder (Lewis’s replacement), he actually played very little in the field, becoming something of a specialty pinch hitter. He was good at it, managing a .449 OBP in 1911, still the second highest OBP by a rookie in the 20th Century. He surpassed that in 1912 with an OBP of .457, and set his career high in 1913 with an OBP of .468. 

A left-handed batter (and thrower), Henriksen had little power, hitting one home run in his entire career (1914). In only 487 at bats he walked 97 times, struck out 73, scored 84 runs, and had 48 RBIs. He managed 22 games in center field, 42 in left, and  61 in right field with 31 games in the field in 1916 being his high, much of his field work coming after the trade of Speaker to Cleveland.

Despite being from Denmark, he was nicknamed “Swede”. Apparently that was a generic nickname for Scandinavians in the era. As far as I can tell, Henriksen never went out of his way to correct others concerning his origins. He seems to have been both well liked and relatively quiet. His big moment came in the final game of the 1912 World Series, when he slugged a pinch hit double in the seventh inning tying the score. Boston ultimately won the game and the Series in extra innings. It was his only at bat of the Series.

His career was short, ending after the 1917 season. He hit .083 with an OBP of only .267. He was 29 and through. After a couple of years and a few odd jobs, he picked up the coaching job at Boston College. He managed the team from 1922-1924.

Henriksen is one of those players that go lost in the mists of time. But he was the kind of player that teams need in order to win consistently. He got on base a lot, made the most of his playing time, and was one of the pioneering career pinch hitters. You see that last quite a lot now. Guys like Manny Mota made their name pinch-hitting. Henriksen was, in some ways, their grandfather.

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