Former Reds pitcher conducts clinic
It’s a pretty special deal for a young pitcher to get the opportunity to get pitching tips from any former major league baseball pitcher.
When that pitcher is one of only 21 pitchers in the history of major league baseball history to ever toss a perfect game, it becomes all that more special.
Such was the case Sunday afternoon when former Cincinnati Reds left handed pitcher Tom Browning spent the day instructing 35 area youth on the art of pitching at Tink Wagner Field just outside of Marietta.
“Anytime I get the chance to talk about pitching or get to work with the kids I enjoy it,” said Browning, who fired his perfect game on September 16 of 1988. “I think in a laid back atmosphere like today they get a lot more attention. It’s enjoyable to see kids still wanting to play this game.”
Browning broke into the major leagues in 1985 with the Reds and wasted little time in establishing himself as one of the premiere south paw hurlers in the National League when he went 20-9 with a 3.55.
Surprisingly in spite of pulling off the rare feat of winning 20 games in his rookie season, Browning placed second in the voting for National League Rookie of the Year to St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Vince Coleman, who stole 110 bases.
Browning attributed his early success to the instruction he learned from his pitching coach at the time, Jim Kaat, a fellow lefty and owner of 283 wins in his 24-year big league career.
“He (Kaat) pitched in a generation when they were expected to go nine innings every time they went out there,”said Browning, whose manager that year was none other than Pete Rose. “It was awesome in the regard that there were no pitch counts so he would let me go out there and pitch as long as I was effective.”
After his outstanding freshman campaign, Browning continued to be effective as he averaged over 15 wins per season in his first seven seasons in the majors.
In 1988 Browning posted a 3.41 earned run average as he won 18 games, including one very big one in September against the Los Angeles Dodgers in which he retired all 27 hitters he faced for the perfect game.
What made that game even more special for Browning, a fan of the Big Red Machine as a kid growing up in Wyoming, was that it came against the arch rival Dodgers.
“I enjoyed beating the Los Angeles Dodgers more than any other team I played against,” said the 53-year old Browning. “That night just happened to be one of those nights where the stars lined up and I had really good command.”
Two years later Browning and the Reds found themselves in the spotlight once again as they went wire-to-wire in 1990, sweeping the Oakland A’s for their first World Championship since the back-to-back titles of the 1970s.
“That has to be the favorite year of my whole career,” recalled Browning, who claimed a victory in each the National League Championship and the World Series. “A lot of us came up through the organization together and kind of peaked at about the same time. It was just a great group of guys who went out there to win every game we could.”
Browning’s career came to an end for all intents and purposes when he suffered a broken arm while delivering a pitch in 1994.
“That injury was kind of the beginning to the end of my career,” said Browning. “I told myself if I couldn’t start at the major league level then I wouldn’t stick around.”
These days Browning is the pitching coach for the Reds rookie league affiliate in Billings, Montana but on this Sunday afternoon his focus was on offering pitching pointers to kids from the ages of 9-to-18. “Sometimes kids respond so much better to someone who has done it before, this is just an awesome opportunity,” said Steve Jones, whose son Marcus participated in the clinic. “Hopefully out of it they learn that with a little extra work they can accomplish a lot more.”
Event organizer Mike Wagner was grateful for Browning’s participation in the event. “I’ve seen a lot of these kids get better on the mound already,” said Wagner, the founder of the Reds Legends Camps held each spring in Marietta. “Tom (Browning) is a great coach. He’s tweaked a lot of kids mechanics and got them throwing better.”