Gene Bennett, a key part of the Big Red Machine, passed away Wednesday in Wheelersburg, Ohio, according to his daughter. Bennett, 87, was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, on July 29, 1928, but lived most of his life in nearby Wheelsburg.
His kidneys reportedly stopped working on Tuesday, and less than 24 hours later he passed away.
Bennett joined the Reds organization as a player in 1952, playing for Johnny Vander Meer that first year, and never worked anywhere else in his life. He turned to scouting in 1957. Offered the opportunity to either manage in the Reds system or scout, Bennett consulted with Branch Rickey, general manager of the Pirates at the time, who explained to Bennett as a scout his ability determined his success, but as a manager he had to depend on the ability of others.
Over the years he signed more than 100 players, including the likes of Don Gullett, who at the age of 24 was the ace in the rotation of the Big Red Machine, Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, and other big league players, including Chris Sabo, Paul O’Neill, Dan Tomlin, Charlie Leibrandt and Jeff Russell.
"Gene has been part of the Reds' family for more than 60 years," Reds general manager Dick Williams said. "His legacy touches not only our organization but also the baseball scouting fraternity. He made countless contributions to the success of our proud franchise.”
Bennett scouted Larkin when he was in high school, and the Reds drafted Larkin in the second round of the 1982 draft. only to have him decide to attend Michigan.
Three years later, the Reds went after Larkin again, this time making him the second pick in the draft, and Bennett got his man.
During Bennett's career with the Reds, the team's ownership changed seven times, and there were 11 general managers. Bennett was the one constant.
He became a regional scouting director in 1975, and in 1992, at the age of 64, was promoted to special assistant to general manager Jim Bowden, who was 31 at the time.
“Gene had a major influence on me not only in baseball, but in life in general,” said assistant GM Nick Krall, who has worked in the Reds’ front office since 2003. “We talked about baseball, giving back to the community and family. I can't begin to describe how much I appreciate him for taking that time for me.”