Thomas Leo Browning passed away today. The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer, former All Star, Perfect Game Thrower™, and World Series champ was 62 years old.
Tom Browning was, in so many ways, the player who defined an era of Reds baseball that, to date, stands up as one of the greatest in the long and storied history of the franchise. He was not the biggest, did not throw the hardest, and rarely pitched with a season-long quality that would even sniff the ‘ace’ category - yet somehow, he was ever-present, an absolute workhorse, and the sum of all his parts and wits found ways to be better than his opponents more often than not.
During the heyday of the Nasty Boys, he filled the role of ‘keep runs off the board long enough for Norm, Randy, and Rob to hammer it down’ with aplomb. In 1988, in Norm’s nascent nastiness and prior to Myers’ arrival altogether, he put together the single greatest pitching performance in team history when he fired the 12th perfect game in MLB history against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Riverfront Stadium, a moment that ranks among the most epic in the history of that storied venue.
For an era of Reds fans - my era, as a child of the 80s - he was one of the pillars of a club that stole our hearts. He kept hitters off-kilter with his screwball as Jose Rijo spun them silly, Eric Davis ran circles around them, as Barry Larkin swept away would-be hits all over the infield. He didn’t just play a central role on those great Reds teams, he served as a central personality on them, too. His trip to the rooftops beyond the Wrigley Field walls mid-game became iconic, as did his decision to leave a World Series game early to make sure he didn’t miss the birth of his second child, forever reminding us that baseball was just a game, could be fun, and shouldn’t be taken too damn seriously.
He made an All Star team, but that’s not what defined him.
He won the World Series with the 1990 team, and while that surely brought a smile to his face each and every time he thought about it, that’s not what defined him.
His perfect game earned him the moniker ‘Mr. Perfect,’ and while that became a second name by which he could go, that’s not what came to define him, either.
He was a Cincinnati Red through and through, having pitched 1911 of his 1921 career innings for the club. He came up with the Reds. He peaked with the Reds. Though he made a brief cameo with the Royals, he grew old with the Reds. The memories he created as a member of the Reds are, and will be some of the single most iconic the franchise will ever produce. He retired, lived in the Cincinnati area, and sadly passed away there today.
He lived and breathed all things Cincinnati Reds, and that’s what defined him.
Rest easy, Mr. Perfect.