Berth “Big Man” Henley Softball league opens on Saturday

Berth "Big Man" Henley

Berth “Big Man” Henley

By Dean “The Sportsman” Greenaway

One of the most revered pitchers on both sides of the Virgin Islands during a stellar career will have the 2014 BVI Softball Association league that opens on Saturday, named in his honor.

Berth “Big Man” Henley, who played with the Rams and Vikings in the St. Thomas league and with such teams as the Invaders, Marlins, Atoms, Roots and Pirates in the BVI Softball Association league during his brilliant career, retired after the 2000 season due to an arm injury.

Reflecting on his career, the Big Man—a man of very few words—never dwelled on the game, statistics nor victories. That was for the pundits. His focus was always on preparing for the next game or to strike out the next opponent.

“I always loved softball,” he recalled while reflecting on his 35-year career in the sport. “We played it in school. Then after school, we stopped on the playground to play softball again.”

Before settling on the mound and rising to prominence as a revered hurler, Henley played both first base and as a catcher. “I got into pitching and I loved it,” he explained. “I was one of the guys who never dwelled on a victory, but to be truthful, after I did the job, I forgot about it.”

However, he recalls pitching a no-hitter in St. Thomas and a perfect game in St. Croix with the Vikings against Mets. “There were a lot of guys on the team like Miguel Santos. They had a good team but at the time I was young and strong I felt like I could have blown it by anybody.”

In one of his last playoff games, Henley fanned a record 18 Bombers batters in the BVI Softball league, where he won the strike out award in 1986, ’87, ’88, ’90, ’91 and ’92. He was the league’s MVP in ’88 and ’89. The Big Man had the lowest ERA in ’79, ’85, ’95 and as recently as 1999.

Perhaps his pitching dominance reached a crescendo 1979, when he was simultaneously the St. Thomas league strike out king and MVP with the Vikings, while winning the strike out title with the Atoms in the BVISA league along with the having most victories in both leagues. In 1990, he grabbed the Gene Gerge Invitational best pitcher award.

Two yeas following his retirement, the Pirates—the last team on which he played—honored him for his contributions to BVI Softball. Everyone had a tale to tell.

“This village of East End and Long Look, and the BVI in general, have had sterling service in softball from Bert ‘Big Man’ Henley,” BVI Softball Association president at the time Walwyn ‘GM’ Brewley said noting that he has represented the BVI on every national team that have ever been assembled during his career.

“When he gets out there on the mound, you’re looking at arguably, the best pitcher who has ever pulled on a uniform in the British Virgin Islands and I still think that is so,” Brewley said, pointing out that he didn’t get where he is by chance. “Bert worked to achieve all those things. He was the kind of guy, that if you went up against him today and got a couple of hits, he is going to study you. The next time you meet him, he is going to give you two strikeouts-even three-for those hits you got against him. That’s the kind of guy he was. He studied the batters, not only here, but he did the same when we went abroad. He was the unofficial scout for the other pitchers.”

Former Blue Wings player Roy ‘Picko’ Pickering, who played against Bert and on national teams with him, recalled a performance that has not been duplicated.

“When softball was in its peak, to get strike out was a cardinal sin, let alone to be strike out with the bases loaded and nobody out,” he said. “When Bert did it to the Astros, we all laughed, because we had it to be a joke, because we didn’t know what was to come. Next came the Marlins who were called the run machine-they got the same dose of medicine. He did the same thing to the Blue Wings. The Royals in recent times suffered the same fate. He was just dominant.”

Brewley, who has a nickname for every player in the game, recalled how the ‘Big Man’ tag became attached to Berth. Playing with the Atoms in the late 70s, there would be lots of trash talking between such teams as the Astros, Blue Wings and Marlins.

“The fellows from East End would tell teams ‘in order to beat us, you have to beat our big man’ and that’s where the name came from,” he said during Henley’s 2002 honoring. “But tonight, we are honoring a great man. A great pitcher in Berth ‘Big Man’ Henley.”

How would he like to be remembered? “I’d like to be remembered as a player who always went out there and gave it my all and one who was never afraid of a challenge,” said the man of few words who preferred his pitches to tell the tale.