By Lou Parrotta
Twenty-six years ago, a thin kid from Casper, Wyoming arrived in Oneida County. His family relocated here, and he quickly signed up to play for Clonan Post 1000 in the American Legion baseball league. He played a total of three summers with Clonan, even after his family uprooted once again and settled in Malone, New York, three hours away. Tom Browning, future major leaguer, wanted to play in Oneida County so badly he would travel THREE HOURS to compete under a special waiver! That's dedication.
Tom, whose family made a home in Chadwicks, considered it a privilege to play for Clonan because he was younger than most of the other players who were from New Hartford. He was a teammate of New Hartford's Andy Van Slyke, who he said "could do anything he wanted." While Van Slyke caught more than anything else, he was "an excellent shortstop too." Their paths would cross again in 1985 in the Major Leagues when Browning was a member of the Cincinnati Reds and Van Slyke a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.
As for his American Legion career, Browning called himself "nothing special." He says he was a left hander, which was indeed a benefit, but he was really "a confident pitcher." His confidence and his ability landed him at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York where he teamed up in the starting rotation with another future major league lefty, Jim Deshaies. After two years, Browning transferred to Tennessee-Wesleyan where he would play one year. At the conclusion of his junior year, Browning was selected in the 9th round by the Cincinnati Reds.
Browning would toil through the minor leagues for parts of three seasons with stops along the way in Tampa, Florida; Waterbury, Connecticut; and Wichita, Kansas. In 1984, Browning would get the call to the major leagues and would stay there for 12+ seasons.
Browning would get to live out his dream of pitching for the team he grew up rooting for. His first manager was the legendary and controversial Pete Rose, who he would play with and for during the beginning of his career. When asked if Rose should be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Browning did not hesitate. He said "Absolutely! When the rules were set up in 1919 by Judge Landis, the times were very different. There needs to be another look at the rule book. Look at Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants in the National Football League. He was caught with drugs and four days later was inducted into the National Football Hall of Fame. Baseball needs to rethink the rules again." Browning also played for Hall of Famer Tony Perez, whom he said was not given enough time to prove himself, and Lou Piniella, whom he said was the best manager he ever played for. Simply put, he said, "I love Lou. He would do anything for the players."
Browning was no slouch of a pitcher in the majors. He would accumulate a win-loss record of 123-90 in a total of 321 games (300 of which were as a starter). He completed 31 games, tossed 12 shutouts, threw a total of 1,921 innings, and had 1000 strikeouts. Also impressive was his 3.94 earned run average.
Browning was a member of the 1990 World Champion Cincinnati Reds team. That year, the Reds shot out of the gate and never looked back. Led by Browning, who went 15-9 and led the team in wins, and All-Star Game starter Jack Armstrong and starter Jose Rijo, the starting five comprised the most dominant staff of the year. The bullpen, which was aptly nicknamed the "Nasty Boys," was anchored by Randy Myers, Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton, and Tim Layana. Lou Piniella's team won the World Series in four games, and Browning earned a coveted World Series ring for the team he had loved since he was a kid.
One of the major highlights in Browning's career occurred on September 16, 1988. On this marvelous day, Browning started the game like every other. The only difference between this game and all the others was the outcome. Browning faced twenty-seven members of the Los Angeles Dodgers and sent each of them back to the dugout without ever reaching first base. It was the only time in the long, rich history of the Reds that anyone had ever pitched a perfect game. The final score was 1-0, and Browning would forever become a member of an elite fraternity of pitchers who have hurled a perfect game.
Tom Browning is retired now. He left the game during spring training in 1996 realizing his body just did not want to compete. He is 42 and lives in Ohio with his wife and five children. Most of his time is spent chasing after his children who range "from one who just graduated high school to one in diapers!" He constantly finds himself going from one game to another cheering them on. And, he loves every second of it. During his free time, he rewards himself with a round of golf. He keeps in touch with former teammates and close friends Bill Gullickson, Hal Morris, Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton, Eric Davis and Barry Larkin, all of whom had or still have long careers in the major leagues.
Tom Browning is one local Legionnaire that made it to "the Show." After spending a half
hour with him, it became evident he was not only a major leaguer in baseball but also
one in mankind.
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