Cincinnati Reds legend Johnny Bench apologized Sunday for an antisemitic joke he made during a team event the previous day.
The Reds were holding a news conference for the team hall of fame inductions for former general manager Gabe Paul and pitchers Danny Graves and Bronson Arroyo. Pete Rose began telling a story of how Paul, who died in 1998 and was represented by his daughter Jennie Paul, signed him for $400 per month out of high school, prompting someone to yell “that’s cheap!”
Bench then interjected with “He was Jewish!” Several people loudly laughed at the joke, though a few others, including Rose, simply looked stunned.
You can see the exchange here:
One day later, after video of the joke leaked, 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.”
Bench didn’t bring up Paul’s Judaism randomly, as Jennie Paul noted her father was Jewish earlier in the news conference, per WCPO.
When reached by the Cincinnati Enquirer, Jennie said she didn’t hear the joke and that Bench asked her if she was offended after the conference:
“I didn’t even hear him say that,” Jennie Paul said. “Johnny came up and said ‘Were you offended?’ and I said for what? I didn’t even hear him say that. I suppose if I would’ve heard him say that, I would’ve said something, but I didn’t even hear him say that.”
While her father was Jewish, Jennie told the Enquirer she is not and that her mother raised her as an Episcopalian. She also said her father’s Judaism prevented him from becoming MLB commissioner.
Bench didn’t overlap with Paul while on the Reds, as he was drafted by the team in 1965, five years after Paul resigned in 1960. Paul went on to become general manager of the Houston Colt .45s, the Cleveland Guardians and the New York Yankees, while Bench remains a 14-time All-Star and Hall of Famer.