McCrabb: Browning was ‘Mr. Perfect’ on and off the mound for the Reds

Tom Browning, who pitched the team’s only perfect game, always took time for fans.

When Joe Nuxhall, the longtime Cincinnati Reds pitcher and broadcaster, died on Nov. 15, 2007, his death left a void in the baseball organization.

The “Ol’ Left-hander” was synonymous with Reds baseball. The Hamilton native played 15 seasons with the Reds and around baseball, is best known as the youngest player to appear in a Major League game, pitching 2/3 of an inning on June 10, 1944 at the age of 15 years, 316 days.

After his playing career, Nuxhall, a Hamilton native, spent 40 years broadcasting Reds games on the radio. Nuxhall and his longtime radio partner Marty Brennaman simply were known as “Marty and Joe.”

Charley Frank, executive director of the Cincinnati Reds Community Fund, remembers wondering if there ever would be another Reds player as genuine and popular as Nuxhall.

Then came Thomas Leo Browning.

“He was the ultimate inning eater and I mean that as respectful as possible,” Frank said. “He was always accessible, available and helpful.”

Frank said no one before or after Browning logged more events for the community fund or the Reds Hall of Fame Museum.

“He holds a unique place in franchise history,” Frank said. “He never cashed in on that celebrity. He was too humble and too grounded to go there.”

During Browning’s stellar 11-year career with the Reds, he pitched the franchise’s only perfect game, recorded a win in Game 3 of the 1990 World Series and compiled a 123-90 record with a 3.94 ERA. He was an All-Star in 1991 and was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 2006.

After he retired from baseball, in the same way as Nuxhall, Browning really never left the ball park. Anytime the Reds needed an ambassador, Browning always answered the call. He was the perfect reliever for Nuxhall.

Browning attended countless Reds Community Fund functions, hosted “Brunch with Browning” before some Sunday home games, and while he lived in Northern Kentucky, he was most at home at Great American Ball Park.

Browning died Dec. 19 when he was found unconscious on his couch. First responders attempted life-saving measures, however, those efforts were not successful, according to the Boone County Sheriff’s Office.

Browning was 62. My age. Damn.

The Reds hosted his visitation and celebration of life on Jan. 6 in the Great American Ball Park’s Bally Sports Club, the same room where Browning interacted with thousands of fans over the years. He was buried in his No. 32 Reds jersey and his casket was surrounded by flowers and family photos.

His service was attended by about 300 family, friends and fans, some wearing suits, others in blue jeans, tennis shoes and Reds baseball caps. After the service, there was an open bar. Call it “Beers with Browning.” Man he would have loved that.

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

Those who eulogized Browning talked more about the person more than player. He was blessed with the ability to get out Major League hitters and then drink beers and tell stories with those in the cheap seats. He never was bigger than the game.

During the service, Lou Piniella, who managed the Reds to the 1990 World Series sweep of the Oakland A’s, appeared on a video that was shot in his Florida home. Piniella apologized if his slurred speech was difficult to understand because he was recovering from a recent stroke.

Here’s what was clear: Piniella admired Browning. He said when they meet in heaven and it’s time to play baseball, Browning will be his starting pitcher. Then Piniella broke down in tears.

Credit: Staff photo by Nick Daggy

Credit: Staff photo by Nick Daggy

“Mr. Perfect” certainly lived an imperfect life like all of us. On Aug. 27, 2022, Browning was arrested and charged with an OVI for falling asleep and driving his car through a house in Georgetown, Ohio. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail, with 177 days suspended.

I met Browning on several occasions and we became friends over time. Twice, he was the celebrity golfer at the McCrabb Open, my charity tournament that raises money for children with cancer. He played a Par 3 with every group, signed autographs and posed for pictures.

For 10 minutes, he treated every golfer like his best friend.

In the days after Browning’s death, I received numerous text messages from McCrabb Open golfers thanking me for the opportunity to play one hole with Browning.

The last time I saw Browning, fittingly, was on a golf course. We were playing in the Baseball Heaven Alumni Association Golf Tournament at Aston Oaks Golf Club in 2021. Browning was our fourth golfer and, as was his reputation, he was late. So we started the round with three golfers, me, Mark Fugate and Rick Renner.

After we all hit our drives on the Par 5, and we waited in the fairway for the green to clear, we heard Browning yelling at us as he was being driven on a golf cart. He said he was sorry for being late, but he had some family matters.

He jumped off the cart, moved his clubs over, and without even tying his golf shoes, grabbed a 7-iron and hit it to eight feet from 180 yards.

I made the eagle putt. After one hole, we were two under and leading the tournament. Then the skies opened and we hide from the thunderstorm while sitting in our carts. The tournament was eventually cancelled.

During dinner, instead of sitting with other former Reds players, Browning sat at our table and told stories.

He was perfect on Sept. 16, 1988 against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Riverfront Stadium and he was nearly perfect that day.

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