Hall of Famer Johnny Bench apologized for an antisemitic comment made at an event to honor former Cincinnati Reds general manager Gabe Paul, who was Jewish, and others.
Bench made the remark at an event attended by Paul’s daughter, Jennie Paul, on Saturday. Paul, who died in 1998, and former Reds pitchers Danny Graves and Bronson Arroyo were being inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame.
Pete Rose recalled signing a deal worth “400 bucks a month” in his first contract negotiation with Gabe Paul.
Jennie Paul joked that it was “cheap”.
“He was Jewish,” Bench responded, drawing laughs from the audience.
“I recognize my comment was insensitive. I apologized to Jennie for taking away from her father the full attention he deserves,” Bench said in a statement released on Sunday. “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.”
Jennie Paul told reporters she didn’t hear Bench’s comment. “Johnny came up and said, ‘Were you offended?’ and I said, ‘For what?’” she said. “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.”
Jennie, who said her mother raised her as an Episcopalian but that a majority of Gabe’s 12 children practiced Judaism, went on to say that being Jewish cost her father a chance at becoming MLB commissioner.
“It did follow him his whole baseball career because a lot of people didn’t know he was Jewish,” Jennie said, according to Bleacher Report. “They turned down the commissionership because he was Jewish. A lot of people don’t know that either.”
Gabe Paul was the Reds’ GM from 1951 to 1960 and was responsible for the franchise’s acquisition of players that included Rose and Hall of Famers Frank Robinson and Tony Perez. Under his leadership, Cincinnati began to sign Black and Latin American players, with Nino Escalera and Chuck Harmon making their debuts with the team in 1954.
Bench was a two-time National League Most Valuable Player, the 1976 World Series MVP, the 1968 NL Rookie of the Year, a 14-time All-Star and a 10-time Gold Glove winner for the Cincinnati Reds while playing from 1967 through 1983.