Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench was forced to apologize over the weekend for comments that he made that were deemed anti-Semitic. The 75-year-old was a key member of the Cincinnati Reds ‘Big Red Machine’ dynasty of the ’70s.
Bench was attending an event marking the Reds’ Hall of Fame inductions of former general manager Gabe Paul and pitchers Danny Graves and Bronson Arroyo. Then, all-time hits leader Pete Rose told a story of how Paul (who passed away in 1998) signed him for $400 per month out of high school, prompting someone to yell out, “That’s cheap!”
To which Johnny Bench yelled out, “He was Jewish!” While some in the crowd chuckled, many looked stunned. Even Rose shot a look as if he immediately knew that his former teammate had just waded into some murky waters.
It didn’t take long for video of the incident to leak, prompting the usual rush to judgment and reaction from social media. And while Bench’s comment was certainly not appropriate, it became apparent that the retired star was going to be the latest celebrity who slipped up in the minds of social watchdogs.
— (((David Lange))) (@Israellycool) July 16, 2023
One day later, Bench issued an apology and called his joke “insensitive”:
“I recognize my comment was insensitive. I apologized to Jennie for taking away from her father the full attention he deserves. Gabe Paul earned his place in the Reds Hall of Fame, same as the others who stood on that stage, I am sorry that some of the focus is on my inappropriate remark instead of solely on Gabe’s achievement.”
To play devil’s advocate in this case, Paul’s Jewish heritage had already been mentioned previously by his daughter, Jennie Paul, who was accepting the honor in her father’s name. She apparently accepted Bench’s words as an honest mistake. However, it still highlighted the difference in language that some older Americans simply don’t understand.
Thus, they find themselves in situations that Bench did. Where perhaps he didn’t mean any real harm, but the wave of disdain that followed was still the same.
Jennie Paul says that she didn’t even hear the comment, but did not hold any grudges against Johnny Bench for the joke. When reached for comment, the deceased GM’s daughter pointed out that -while she is of Jewish heritage – she was not raised as a practitioner of the faith. So once again, while the comments weren’t smart, they certainly didn’t come off as sinister to the alleged ‘victim’.
It’s ironic, considering that Bench has always been considered one of the more beloved figures in and around MLB. An ambassador for the game, his contributions extended to hosting the popular kids’ show, ‘The Baseball Bunch’ during the 1980s. The show helped teach youngsters the finer points of America’s pastime.
During his career, Johnny Bench played all 17 of his seasons in Cincinnati and was considered the best catcher in the game for many years. He revolutionized the skill set of the position, providing Gold Glove defense while posting career a career average of .267. Bench also hit 389 homers and notched 1376 runs batted in and was elected to the MLB Hall of Fame.