Growing up as a Reds fan in the mid-late 80's and early 90's there were a ton of memorable players. Eric Davis, Chris Sabo, Barry Larkin, Jose Rijo, and, of course, Tom Browning. I always loved watching Browning pitch. There was seemingly no thinking to his game. It was simply pitch, ball return from catcher, rock back, throw again. Beautiful. And of course he gave me one of my favorite memories as a Reds fan on September 16, 1988 when he was Perfect. So to say it was a cool thing for Browning to answer a few of my questions is a huge understatement. Hope you guys enjoy it.
RR: How has it been working with Dann and getting the book written?
Tom Browning: It's been great. It's been awesome to remember all those great memories, and I love talking about baseball. I had a great time reliving it all.
RR: What was the Reds organization like in the mid 80's? Were you excited to be drafted by the Reds?
Tom Browning: It was a lot more regimented. It was really considered a world-class organization in the way it was run (I think we're headed back in that direction). I was a lifelong Reds fan even though I grew up in Casper, Wyoming. In the book, I talk about how Johnny Bench and Pete Rose actually came to our year-end Little League banquet and how that really sparked my love for the Reds even more. When the team drafted me in 1982, I was of course thrilled. I always wanted to play professional baseball growing up, and I always pictured doing it in a Cincinnati uniform.
RR: What was Billings like when you played there in '82? I've always wondered what recently drafted players think about getting shipped all the way out to Montana.
Tom Browning: I didn't mind it all. They gave me the option of reporting to Tampa or Billings, and I chose Billings because my mom and stepfather had just moved there. I figured it would be nice to have a support system around. It was also a fun team. Marc Bombard was the manager, and he was great. We also had Kal Daniels on the team. He was the MVP that year and just dominated. He was so much fun to watch.
RR: Were you always a quick worker? Why do you think other pitchers take so much longer than you?
Tom Browning: Always. There's actually a funny story in the book about how it came about. My dad used to play fast-pitch softball, which was about as close as you could get to real baseball. Well, they had time limits on the games, so the pitchers always worked quickly. I naturally picked up the rhythm from an early age. I actually had Little Leaguers stepping out the batter's box to slow me down!
RR: What do baseball players think about Cincinnati?
Tom Browning: In my day, especially when veterans like Davey Concepcion and Tony Perez were still around, I think players really wanted to be part of our team. Obviously, the team's gone through a rough stretch, and we just don't see players sticking with the same team more than a few years anymore. Things are turning around, though. I think Bob Castellini, the new owner, has things headed in the right direction. I was glad to see him get more retired Reds involved with the team.
RR: What was it like playing for Pete? Did players think anything was up with the gambling, or were you guys as surprised as the public when it all came out? I've read in places that it was something of an open secret.
Tom Browning: Pete was, without a doubt, my favorite manager. I think it comes across in the book. He was just a great guy to play for. He always demanded your best effort, and I loved that. Once the gambling stuff came out, we were all pretty shocked. There were some rumbles about him gambling on sports, but no one really thought he was betting on baseball. That's what really shocked us about the whole thing. That's kind of the short answer. Pete comes up a lot in the book, especially in the chapter devoted to the 1989 season, so definitely check out the book if you want to read more about it.
RR: What caused your drop off in performance in 1987? Just from looking at the stats the season sticks out like a sore thumb. Were you injured or was something else going on?
Tom Browning: I was pitching with stiffness in my elbow, but I was too pig-headed to really seek help. When you pitch on one-year contracts, you hate to do anything to make the club question your ability. When I got demoted to the minors that year, it was the low point of my career. I was devastated. But honestly, it was the greatest thing to happen to my career. It made me remember how hungry those guys are down in Triple-A and how they would do anything for the chance to take your job.
RR: What was it like playing for Lou Piniella? Any reason why he didn't use you in the '91 All Star game or did it just work out that way?
Tom Browning: I loved Lou. Pete was my favorite manager, but Lou was my best. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and he got the most out of his players. Like Pete, he comes up a lot in the book. There were just so many funny stories that included him. One time he pulled me from a game, and I was ticked. I started banging a bat against the wall and screaming curse words. Lou came over and just stared at me. So I stopped. Without a second thought, he said, "Yeah, well, I'd be pissed too if I were pitching like you." You had to love that honesty. I'm actually very thankful that he made me an All-Star in 1991. It was a career highlight. Unfortunately, I had pitched just two days before the game, so I was only scheduled to pitch in the All-Star Game in an emergency. So I just hung out with Lee Smith in the bullpen and talked shop with him.
RR: What do you remember most about 1990? Were you guys the toast of Cincinnati that year?
Tom Browning: That was absolutely my favorite year of professional baseball. I never played on a team with so much camaraderie. The other amazing thing was how every single guy on that team contributed in some major way. You can give me a name of anyone on that team, and I can tell you something huge that he did to win us a ballgame. That's what made it so much fun. Everyone felt a part of it, including the fans. The city was great that year.
RR: Who were you the closest with from the Reds teams that you were on? Did the teams get along as a whole? Any insider tidbits you could share with us?
Tom Browning: There were a lot of guys I was close with: Ronnie Oester, Bill Gullickson, Rob Murphy, Buddy Bell, Eric Davis and a whole lot of others. For the most part, everyone got along really well. We had a few bad apples, but they weren't usually around too long. I could give you a million funny stories about those guys. That's why I'd encourage you to pick up the book. It's just not shameless plug. Really, it's about 300 stories from some of the funniest events I can remember. We talk about how we locked Dave Parker in the restroom on the bus, how Pete came up with nicknames for everyone, why Marge slapped me when I mouthed off and even some of the sadder stuff, like when Pete was kicked out of baseball, what it's like when a teammate passes way, and what it's like to go through a career-ending injury.
RR: What's your opinion of Marge Schott?
Tom Browning: I can only speak about what I saw in the clubhouse, but as a player, I really thought Marge was a good owner. She gave us whatever we needed. If Pete needed a pitcher, she'd get us a pitcher. If I had a family problem or needed some help with something off the field, Marge was always there. She was great to my wife and kids. There's a story in the book about how Marge put a clause in my contract that said my wife would get a $300,000 bonus if I threw a second perfect game in 1989. Unfortunately, the NL office made her take it out, but we didn't really care because we figured there was no way I'd throw a second one. Amazingly, I actually took a perfect game into the ninth inning that year! My wife would have killed me if I would have blown her bonus.
RR: How do you think you'd fare in GABP? Do you think it's a scary park for pitchers?
Tom Browning: Well, I'd probably give up a few more home runs. But I always gave up a lot of home runs (luckily, they were mainly solo shots). By now, I think the reputation of Great American Ball Park precedes it. Pitchers have heard the horror stories about pitching there, and whether or not the ballpark is a big factor just doesn't seem to matter. People just assume it's a tough place to pitch. That's not to say a pitcher can't have success here, though. A good pitcher can win anywhere.
RR: What were the best and worst things about managing the Florence Freedom?
Tom Browning: I knew within 10 minutes of putting on that uniform that managing and coaching was for me. I just loved that aspect of the game. I loved strategizing and thinking about the game on a deeper level. However, the toughest part was crushing a kid's dream. I hated being the one to tell them they just weren't good enough. There's a story in the book about me having to tell a kid -- a left-handed pitcher I really related to -- that his dream was over. I hated being the guy who had to deliver the bad news.
RR: Why haven't you had more of an active role with the Reds over the last decade? Has that been your choice or the organization's? I know you're coming in during Spring Training with Mario Soto, do you think your role will expand over time? Would you like to one day be a minor or major league pitching coach?
Tom Browning: I've just been waiting for a chance. I've always offered my services. In years past, that didn't really include an on-field or instructing role, but I stayed involved with Reds season-ticket holder events, the Caravan, Redsfest and a lot of events at the Reds Hall of Fame. I am very thankful that Bob Castellini (at the recommendation of Johnny Bench) is giving me a chance to work with the younger guys in spring training this year. I can't tell you how excited it is to "get ready" for camp again. Hopefully, the role will develop over time. I'd love to get into coaching and working with the pitchers on a more regular basis.
Thanks so much Tom for taking the time out to do this, and good luck during Spring Training!