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Tom Browning, 62, dies suddenly at his home in Union; Hall of Famer pitched Reds only perfect game

By Andy Furman
NKyTribune reporter

That he even played baseball – let alone make it the major leagues is amazing.

Tom Browning was born and raised in Wyoming.

Not much of a baseball season in Laramie.

He attended college in upstate New York – Syracuse – LeMoyne College.

He made it all the way to the Cincinnati Reds – was a member of their 1990 World Series championship team.

Cincinnati Reds photos

And he passed at the age of 62, Monday when Boone County Kentucky Sheriff’s Department officers and emergency personnel responded to Browning’s home in Union.

Upon arriving they found the Reds Hall of Fame pitcher not breathing and attempts at resuscitation were unsuccessful.

He was declared dead at 1:13 p.m., EST.

But Thomas Leo Browning was associated with good times and fun.

On July 7, 1993 he sneaked out of Wrigley Field during a Reds-Cubs game and spent one-half inning with fans on the rooftop of 3643 North Sheffield Avenue in full uniform in one of baseball’s most legendary pranks.

That prank cost Browning a $500 fine from then manager Davey Johnson, who joked about it with me weeks later.

A writer as well as a pitcher, he co-authored Tom Browning’s Tales from the Reds Dugout.

And wouldn’t you know it – he even had a chapter on this author.

Seems I would be somewhat harsh on those Redlegs during the season on my then Extra Innings post-game show on 700-WLW Radio.

Perhaps it was bravery or just plain stupidity, I usually poked my face in the Reds clubhouse before most home games.

It was Browning who said – and then wrote – he thought a lot of me for speaking my mind – and then showing my face to those I “attacked.”

I thanked him for the words – but he still made me purchase the book.

Getting his head shaved

Browning was drafted by the Reds in the ninth-round of the 1982 June draft out of Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, Tennessee. That year, he led the Pioneer League in strikeouts and innings pitched, and after learning a screwball during the Fall Instructional League, went 8-1 with 101 strikeouts in 78.2 innings pitched for Class-A Tampa in 1983. He eventually earned a midseason promotion to Class-AA Waterbury and struck out 101 batters in 117.1 innings pitched.

He began the 1984 season with Class-AAA Wichita, where he went 12-10 with a league-high 160 strikeouts. On July 31st of that year, he threw a seven-inning no-hitter against Iowa and later earned a September call-up to play for Pete Rose’s Cincinnati Reds.

In his major-league debut, Browning beat Orel Hershiser and the Los Angeles Dodgers while pitching 8.1 innings and giving up just in run. He finished the year with a 1-0 record and recorded 1.54 ERA to retain his spot on the major-league club the following season.

As a rookie with the Reds Browning went 20-9 with a 3.55 ERA becoming the first rookie to win 20 games since the Yankees’ Bob Grim in 1954. Browning finished the season with 11 consecutive wins – the longest streak by a Cincinnati pitcher in 30 years – and was named The Sporting News’ NL Rookie Pitcher of the Year. He also finished second to Vince Coleman in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Personally, he told me he was very, very superstitious.

How so?

He didn’t shave between pitching starts. You’ve probably noticed the four=-day stubble in photos.

He also – and I never saw this but was told – wore red underwear on the days he pitched.

He must’ve worn a good pair of red ones on September 16, 1988 – that’s when he pitched the 12th perfect game in baseball history – a 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Riverfront Stadium. He threw 70 of 102 pitches for strikes and did not run the count to three balls on a single batter.

The first left-hander to pitch a perfect game since Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965. Browning remains the only Reds player to pitch a perfect game.

Three months earlier, on June 6, 1988, Browning had a bid for a no-hitter broken up by Tony Gwynn who singled with one out in the ninth inning.

The year was 1990 – and it was the first and only time in Browning’s career the Reds went to the postseason. He won 15 games that season and had a key win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.

The Reds would then meet the heavily favored Oakland A’s in the World Series, but thanks to Browning’s victory in Game 3, the Reds pulled off an unlikely weep to become champions.

Game 2 was one to remember as well.

That’s when Browning’s wife went into labor – he left the stadium to be with her at the hospital. The game then entered extra innings and manager Lou Piniella soon realized his pitcher was nowhere to be found. He called the radio booth and an APB was summed for Tom Browning to return to the ballpark in case he had to pitch.

Young Tom Browning

Browning heard the cry – stayed with his wife – and the Reds won in the 10th inning.

“That 1990 season was, without a doubt, the most enjoyable season of baseball I’ve ever been associated with,” he told me after the Series was over on radio.

That series cost me, too.

I said the Reds would never topple the mighty A’s.

So much so I was willing to have my head shaved if they won.

They did – and I kept my promise.

Rob Dibble dug deep into my scalp – but Browning was right there with his sheers as well.

The Bulldog – Mr. Perfect – retired with a 123-90 record, a 3.94 ERA and 31 complete games. His 123 wins as a Reds player rank 12th on Cincinnati’s all-time leaders list.

In December, 2005 Browning led fan balloting wire-to-wire to become a 2006 Reds Hall of Famer.

In 2023 let’s hope to see Number 32 again – with a patch on the Reds’ uniforms.

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