Danish journalist researches local baseball hero

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Jannik Bay Hansen is a Danish journalist from Copenhagen who has become fascinated by one particular aspect of Canton’s history. Hansen visited Canton recently in hopes of expanding his knowledge of Olaf Henriksen, an early 1900s Red Sox player who lived in Canton. Hansen was trying to track down personal memories of Henriksen for a book he is writing about the only Dane to ever play Major League Baseball.

Jannik Bay Hansen at the Canton library last week

Jannik Bay Hansen at the Canton library last week (Candace Paris photo)

Hansen has been curious about Henriksen ever since first learning about him in 2010. He remembers the moment well: “It was New Year’s Eve and I discovered Olaf when I was surfing the internet while waiting for my guests.”

Since then, Hansen has thought about, researched, and read about Henriksen almost daily. He was less involved, he says, for several years following the birth of his twin daughters but then realized, “I needed to do this and it had to be now. People are still alive who can remember Olaf and can tell me about him.”

Last week, Hansen had an appointment to meet with Marie Leary, a Canton resident and Henriksen’s granddaughter. Hansen said he first wrote to her in 2013 about her grandfather, and she was immediately interested and helpful. Hansen’s focus in Canton was on the private Henriksen, and he is hoping Leary or perhaps someone else might be able to assist him in finding the families of the six men who were Henriksen’s pall bearers when he died in 1962.

What intrigues Hansen especially about Henriksen is that his story is one of contrasts. For one thing, Henriksen was a popular baseball player in a region of baseball fans, and his accomplishments were well-known. However, Hansen says, he was low-key and may have been uncomfortable with fame. Following the 1912 World Series finale in which Henriksen played a major role, he returned home immediately instead of lingering to soak in the victory and celebrate with the other players. Hansen speculates that the choice may have been related to the high value Danish culture places on modesty and not standing out.

It is likely that Henriksen was influenced to some extent by his Danish parents. Born in Denmark in 1888, Henriksen emigrated to America with his parents while still an infant. He grew up in Wareham and Canton and played first on Canton town teams and then on a semi-pro team in Stoughton and a minor league team in Brockton. He was known for being small but fast and a reliable hitter, good at getting on base. Picked up by the Red Sox in 1911, Henriksen suddenly became a hero when, in 1912, he got a game-tying base hit off famed pitcher Christy Mathewson in the deciding game of the World Series. He would go on to play a role in two more World Series, in 1915 and in 1916. Henriksen’s professional playing career ended in 1917, but he continued playing ball with semi-pro teams into the 1920s. He also coached for a while, including three years at Boston College.

Hansen also planned to visit Fenway Park and the Living Museum and Hall of Fame to learn about the context of Henriksen’s career. This context is important because Hansen, like most Danes, doesn’t know much about baseball; in Denmark, he says, the game is largely unknown. However, one ball player that Danes do know about is Babe Ruth, which fits well with Hansen’s interest in Henriksen. Henriksen, in fact, played with Ruth, even pinch hitting for him. Off the field, Hansen says, they were in a card-playing group together.

Hansen has also conducted online research with the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). But it is personal connections that interest Hansen the most. He is hoping to track down anyone who witnessed the 1962 Red Sox game when Henriksen and the rest of the surviving members of the 1912 team were reunited. Hansen has special interest in the event in part, he says, because Henriksen was then already ill with the cancer that would kill him a few months later.

Besides immersing himself in baseball’s past in order to tell Henriksen’s story, Hansen was looking forward to seeing his first baseball game. He and the two friends, Ole Sander and Søren Daubermerkl, who traveled from Denmark with him, had tickets to see the Mets play in New York before flying home. Once back in Copenhagen, Hansen said he would hope to hear from anyone with knowledge of Olaf Henriksen, the skilled Canton pinch-hitter.

Jannik Bay Hansen can be reached at jannikbayhansen@yahoo.dk.

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