“It started when I joined the high school team my sophomore year. Our final record was ninety-six wins and four losses. What a horrible team, am I right?” Mr. Gene Bennett is a man full of jokes and adventures. He had fifty-eight years with the Cincinnati Reds as a player from 1952-1957, then as a scout and scouting supervisor, Senior Special Assistant, and he finally became the General Manager in 1991 before retiring in 2010.
Bennett grew up in my small town, Wheelersburg, Ohio, playing baseball and basketball for Wheelersburg High School. He has been an important role model for our community. When I questioned him about if he ever imagined himself going into an athletic profession, he responded, “Sports weren’t really a big deal to me. I couldn’t care less honestly. It was just something I did for fun,” said Bennett. “I didn’t plan on having a career associating with sports at all; actually, I didn’t have any plans since I was only a teenager! I received an offer to play right out of high school, but I wasn’t ready to leave home yet since it was my father’s last days. Five years later I was playing in a tournament when a scout for the Cincinnati Reds approached me.”
Gene Bennett signed in 1952 with the Reds. He played until 1957, when he decided he would only hurt the team if he continued playing with an arm injury. The organization wasn’t quite ready to see him leave, so they gave him two offers. He could become a scout for the Reds or could coach an upcoming team in New York.
“I talked to a good friend of mine, Mr. Ricky. I asked him what he would choose if he were in my shoes. He told me if I chose the coaching job in New York, I could end up with a losing team. A losing team means the coach gets blamed and fired. On the other hand, I could have a job for the rest of my life with the Reds.” Bennett said he called up the Reds that night and accepted the scouting offer. “And Mr. Ricky was right!”
Not only did he work for the Reds during the season, but he refereed NCAA basketball for twenty-one years in the offseason. Bennett commented, “I didn’t do it for the money; I didn’t need it. I did it mostly to keep me in shape, but it was also fun.” He spoke of memories he made, including throwing people out of games, to the great players and friends he met.
All of his memories and steps to success are also told in his book, “Gene Bennett: My 58 Years with the Cincinnati Reds,” written by Steve Hayes, with a foreword by Marty Brennaman. All proceeds go to the Wheelersburg Little League/Challenger League program in Wheelersburg held at Gene Bennett Park. I grew up playing in this league for about eight years, and every year he would be at our opening day parade in a car dedicated to the Reds. I didn’t realize it when I was a kid, but he has made our community what it is today. Without his impact and financial support, our sports programs wouldn’t be as complete as they are today.
His book has been very successful, so when he was asked about writing another one, his response was a little shocking. “I wouldn’t write another book even if I was offered a million dollars. Writing it wasn’t something I wanted to do, but I did it for the league and my community. I see no reason I shouldn’t give back to the place that shaped me into the man I am.” Mr. Gene Bennett might seem like an average elderly citizen from a small town in southern Ohio, but he is much more than that. He is an inspirational, experienced, and memorable man.
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