Tom Browning pitched from 1985 to 1994 in the MLB. In 1994 his career was ended after he broke his left arm. In 1985 he became the first rookie to win 20 games as a starting pitcher since Bob Grim in 1954. In 1988 he joined only a handful of other pitchers to pitch a perfect game. Tom Browning’s Tales from the Reds Dugout reflects back on many stories that are worth reading.
Listen to the Tom Browning CYInterview:
(Backup Player: Including IE)
Chris Yandek: First off how are you?
Tom Browning: “I am doing fine. Thank you.”
CY: The Cincinnati Reds were the only team scouting you going into the 1982 MLB Draft and you felt that that was your one shot. How did you feel when you were drafted 233rd overall in the 1982 MLB draft since it wasn’t something you expected?
TB: “I feel very fortunate. I am just glad someone was interested. I got the opportunity to try out in Riverfront Stadium for the team I grew up idolizing. It just worked out.”
CY: In 1985 you became the first rookie since to win 20 games since the New York Yankees Bob Grin in 1954. You noted in your book that you always had to work harder to be on a major league team. Do you think maybe that was the reason you were so successful your rookie season?
TB: “Well, I am sure it had something to do with it. I was just fortunate to be on a good team that scored a lot of runs for me when it was my day to pitch. I was a pretty aggressive pitcher. I kind of went after every hitter I faced. I didn’t give in to too many people. I just tried to get everybody I faced out. It didn’t always work that way, but I was fortunate to get enough people out. I guess being at the right place at the right time more than anything else.”
CY: On March 16, 1988 at Riverfront Stadium against the Los Angeles Dodgers you threw a perfect game that was almost delayed by rain. Reflect back on the night and tell me what it means to be one of a few guys to throw a perfect game and be in baseball history.
TB: “You never go out there with the intentions of throwing a no hitter or a perfect game. You go to the mound with the intentions of throwing nine innings or maybe a shut out. We had a two and a half hour rain delay. The umpires came into the dugout at 9:30 PM and said we would start at 10:00 PM. I didn’t want to wait to the next day to pitch. I had good command and things were in my favor.”
CY: Going into the 1990 World Series against the Oakland Athletics you say the following in your book about Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, “I have never seen one guy – let alone two of them – pound baseballs so effortlessly (of course, based on what we know now, I’m guessing they had some help).” How common do you think steroid use was among hitters you faced then before steroids became illegal a few seasons ago?
TB: “I don’t think it was as common as it was maybe in the 1990s. I think maybe it started to show itself in the late 1980s. Nobody knew for sure. We just knew that the big boys hit the thing a long way. There were big hitters anyway. I am guessing it helped support a bit of power. It didn’t matter to me. They were a juggernaut. We just didn’t want to get swept. We didn’t intend to sweep them.”
CY: What do you honestly think about what is going on with Barry Bonds and all the performance enhancing drugs talk and are you surprised where this has gone?
TB: “Not really. All the other guys that were targeted are gone now. The only marquee name is Barry Bonds. It’s unfortunate for him because he’s going to be a hall of famer no matter what he did as far as enhancing his ability. I am glad they are trying to clean it up a little bit and level the playing field. There was more epidemic than I anticipated. I think there was more pitchers using it than I anticipated.”
CY: What was the feeling like to start game three of the 1990 World Series against the Oakland Athletics?
TB: “Well, I had a baby the day before. I left game two early to see my child come into the world. We had a 2-0 lead going into Oakland. We didn’t want to give them any kind of momentum. We figured once they got that big train rolling that they might try to steam roll over us. I just went out there and threw strikes and tried to get people out. I was fortunate that they scored a bunch of runs for me early and set the tone. After six innings that game was pretty much over anyway.”
CY: You talk about the times you just got to spend time talking with Pete Rose about life and how he would share great stories during rain delays. What do you remember about those conversations?
TB: “I was a Cincinnati Reds fan growing up as a kid. I saw my first game in Montreal. It was nice to remember the stories and write them. I remember Pete hitting game number 36 in Montreal and the 1975-1976 Cincinnati Reds, how they won the seven game series against Boston, and just to get the information as a kid I remember so vividly.”
CY: You say in your book from all you heard that Pete Rose never bet against you guys. What did you think of the investigation overall and what the atmosphere was like in the club house?
TB: “It never really ever got into the club house. We heard stories and stuff, but we never got the gist of the whole investigation till it was over with and Pete was banned from the game. He wasn’t going to let that affect the players. We just thought Pete would go through this like everything else he had troubles with. I guess they felt it necessary to ban him from baseball. It was obviously Pete who caused the whole commotion. I guess we don’t have anybody to blame, but Pete.”
CY: Reds owner Marge Schott put a clause in you contract that your wife would receive a $300,000 bonus if you pitched another perfect game in 1989, but the clause was removed later. What are your memories of Marge Schott and how she did business?
TB: “She was great for the fans of Cincinnati. She did a lot for the city of Cincinnati. She treated us players like we were her children. She took care of us in a lot of ways. She made us feel like we were the most important people in the world. She took care of us and had a pretty good relationship with the players. She just tried to be involved like a mother hen. We enjoyed having her around. She was a little eccentric at times, but we sure enjoyed her as an owner.”
CY: On July 7, 1993 you went and hung out on the top of the roof with the fans at Wrigley Field. What motivated you to go out of the norm and go hang with the fans while a game was going on?
TB: “Well, that was the year that Tony Perez started out as our manager. Once he got fired off our west coast trip it put a crimp in the season for us. We were 25 guys going 25 different directions. I tried to get in the scoreboard and they wouldn’t let me in. I called a guy that owned the buildings across the street. I got permission to come up there and sit for an inning. I was up there in the top of the third inning and was back in the bullpen by the top of the fourth. I did it to give our guys a laugh and to relax a little bit. Anything but baseball mattered at that point. We were upset because Tony was no longer our manager. We wanted to play for Tony more than anybody else.”
CY: In 1994 you suffered a career ending injury when you broke your left arm. What do you remember about the feeling and how did you feel after you tried to come back and pitch a few games for the Kansas City Royals?
TB: “I felt ok. My arm was hurting, but I thought I was dealing with some tendonitis. I kept trying to pitch. I never got it looked at and come to find out that there was a stress fracture in my arm which allowed it to break that night in San Diego. My intention was to come back and be a starting pitcher again. I was going to be 36 in spring training of 1996. I got myself back in shape. In 1995 I pitched two games, but just didn’t have the arm strength. I just didn’t have the ability to go more than two to three innings. Kansas City put me on the disable list, but it just never responded. If I couldn’t be a starting pitcher I knew I wasn’t going to stick around. Once I was in spring training and came to the conclusion I couldn’t go more than two to three innings that was it. It made my decision pretty easy.”
CY: What was the feeling like to be inducted into the 2006 Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame?
TB: “It’s an honor. An absolute honor to be associated with all the great players. I am looking forward to the induction this summer. It’s going to be great. I can’t be more honored than to be recognized by the city of Cincinnati and be a hall of famer.”
CY: Finally, what are you currently doing and would else would you like to accomplish the rest of your life in baseball?
TB: “I went down to spring training this year as a guest instructor and worked with a lot of guys. I hope to be involved a little more in the organization in detail. I got five kids. They keep me kind of busy. I am looking forward one day to being a big part of the Cincinnati Reds organization.”
You can find out more information and purchase a copy of Tom Browning’s Tales from the Reds Dugout at www.browningbook.com.