Over the course of his Hall of Fame career in professional baseball, Johnny Bench played for the entirety of his career for a single team: the Cincinnati Reds. It’s no surprise, then, that he’s also a member of the Hall of Fame for the team in question — and is sometimes called upon to speak about his time as a player at related events. This shouldn’t be hard — and yet Bench is now in hot water over comments he made at at a news conference related to this year’s class of inductees.
Not completely botching your remarks at a public event should be fairly simple — with “don’t say something wildly offensive” being at the top of one’s to-do list. Unfortunately, as The Athletic’s C. Trent Rosecrans reports, Bench did not accomplish this relatively simple task.
As Rosecrans detailed, among this year’s inductees was Gabe Paul, who was the team’s general manager from 1952 until 1960, and during that time signed the likes of Frank Robinson and Curt Flood for the club. Paul also signed a young Pete Rose to his first professional contract, and Rose was among the former players gathered to honor Paul. Paul himself died in 1998, but his daughter Jennie Paul was present.
Rose described the elder Paul signing him to a contract that paid $400 per month in 1960. “That cheap … never mind,” the younger Paul responded. And then Bench, for whatever reason, decided to enter the conversation and say, “He was Jewish.”
Bench did follow up his comments with an apology the following day, however. “I recognize my comment was insensitive. I apologized to Jennie for taking away from her father the full attention he deserves,” he said in a statement.
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As Rosecrans reported at The Athletic, Jennie Paul had spoken about her father’s background earlier in the ceremony, making Bench’s decision to say what he said that much more bizarre. It’s a frustrating blemish on Bench’s post-retirement career, which has been largely devoid to date of the sort of easily avoidable controversies that have surrounded many of his peers.