I had an interesting lunch the other day with a man who has no shortage of baseball stories.
Gene Bennett, the retired superscout with the Cincinnati Reds, shared some tales with me, major league umpire Greg Gibson and Greg’s father Acy. Greg’s mother, Joyce, his wife Michelle and his three boys were with us but at the other end of the table.
Bennett, meanwhile, held court with baseball stories, basketball officiating stories and many more. Gene is 86 but can recount people, places and dates like few others.
He was part of the Cincinnati Reds family for almost 60 years, from when he was signed as a player in 1952. He moved into scouting in 1958 and was promoted to scouting supervisor in 1975. His notable signings include Reds Hall of Famers Don Gullett, Barry Larkin and Chris Sabo along with Jeff Russell, Charlie Leibrandt and Paul O’Neill.
Bennett was named a special assistant to the general manager in October 1992.
Bennett, who lives in Wheelersburg, is a treasure for the entire area and has been for years. He lost his wife, Loretta, last winter and has had some health issues himself.
But if baseball is the subject — and it almost always is if Gene Bennett is in the room — then the clock gets turned back.
Bennett’s life is certainly an amazing one. He has met two presidents — President Jimmy Carter and President George W. Bush — and is known throughout the baseball world for his scouting prowess.
He met President Carter in Atlanta while chatting it up with Bobby Cox and met President Bush in the Astrodome.
He also had a second meeting with President Bush when he came through Portsmouth on a campaign swing.
Bennett recounted that story on Tuesday, telling us it was when the Portsmouth Mural project had just started. Al Oliver’s portrait was going up but not quite finished. The sock he was wearing were still white.
President Bush took notice that it was indeed, Oliver, who had also played for the Texas Rangers when Bush was a minority owner there. He also noticed the uncompleted socks.
“He pointed that out right away,” Bennett said. “But he knew who Al Oliver was.”
He met President Carter and to his amazement the president actually remembered his name on a later trip to Atlanta when they met again.
“What a memory!” Bennett said.
Of course, he probably remembered Bennett because he has that kind of effect on people.
He is a warm person from top to bottom.
I so appreciated Greg Gibson inviting me to the lunch. We go way back to when he played basketball in junior high for Rose Hill Christian School and I was attempting to coach.
Gibson, 45, is an outstanding umpire, one of the best in the big leagues. He has called 15 years and there’s nothing better than having a lunch with him if you’re a baseball fan.
He called the Cardinals-Rangers World Series a couple of years ago and it was a career highlight for him. I’m sure there will be others in his future.
I loved this exchange between Bennett and Gibson:
“Did you see the managers who made the Hall of Fame?” Bennett asked, referring to Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre.
“Sure did. I’ve thrown every one of them out of games,” Gibson said.
Spoken like a true umpire.
Gibson has made peace with Cox and Torre (who is actually his boss today). But he and LaRussa probably don’t exchange Christmas cards.
“He did not like me,” Gibson said.
Gibson, much like Charlie Reliford did, gives so much insight into the players and what they’re like. It’s not necessairly something I’d share with the public but it’s interesting information. I’ll leave it at that.
Greg’s parents, Acy and Joyce, are outstanding people as well and his wife Michelle is one of the area’s top teachers.
Acy used to work at the old Sears in downtown Ashland and we had a good time swapping memories about others who had worked there.
Acy talked about the “family atmosphere” that existed at Sears, where co-workers would do anything to help another co-worker.
That’s a column for another day.
Bennett was the star of the day with the kind of stories that make you LOL (laugh out loud).
I didn’t know his college basketball officiating background but it included stints with the Ohio Valley Conference, Missouri Valley Conference and Mid-American Conference. He called games until 1991.
His first game was between Morehead State and Western Kentucky University in Laughlin Gymnasium.
Bennett said he never called a game involving the University of Kentucky or Ohio State, so he never dealt with the wrath of Adolph Rupp.
Baseball has always been Gene Bennett’s calling card.
In January 2009 he received the Legends In Scouting Award from the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation and at the December 2009 Winter Meetings he received the Midwest Scout of the Year Award.
Legendary definitely describes Mr. Gene Bennett who has had a life full of adventures.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.