PDT Sports Editor
The 2012 National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction ceremony was Sunday afternoon and Barry Larkin addressed the gathered crowd. He spoke of his playing career, the many influences on his development and eventual enshrinement. One of the people credited was Wheelersburg native and former Reds scout Gene Bennett.
“Gene Bennett, the longtime Red scout who believed in me and drafted me out of high school also after my junior year in college,” Larkin said during his speech. “Gene, you’ve always been supportive of me and my family. I thank you for your friendship, your professionalism and your patience and your persistence.”
Bennett was in attendance for the weekend’s festivities, having flown to New York and taken a bus to Cooperstown with multiple members of the Reds front office and his son. He reflected on the experience Tuesday evening.
“All the Reds people were there, the owners and all the front office people and we got to spend a lot of time together and that’s always nice,” Bennett said. “There were a lot of other guys up there too that are friends of Al Oliver, like Dave Parker. We sat down and talked about Al who is really a well-respected guy who should be in the Hall of Fame. There was something going on all the time. It was a lot of fun.”
Bennett, who scouted and signed Larkin as the fourth overall pick of the 1985 baseball draft, was happy to see Larkin and his family again.
“I got to see Barry and his mom and dad and his brothers and my son went with me and it was nice,” he said. “I saw a lot of people that I hadn’t seen for four or five years and it was really nice.”
Larkin’s induction speech ranged from his high school coaches to his teammates to former Reds greats. Bennett said he enjoyed Larkin’s time at the microphone.
“Old Barry done good. He is something else,” Bennett said. “We have had a lot of great players come through there. And we have had some good individuals come through there, but I don’t know if any were better than Barry Larkin. He’s something else.”
Citing Larkin’s character, Bennett spoke of when he mentored infielder Pokey Reese after Reese was called up the Major Leagues in 1997.
“We had Pokey Reese, a young shortstop on the rise that was going to take Barry’s place and Barry showed him everything he knew about the game,” he said. “Everything he knew about playing shortstop he worked on with Pokey. But I guess when you are as good as Barry Larkin that doesn’t bother you any.”
As it turns out, Larkin excelled at shortstop for another seven years and Reese was moved to second where he was a two-time Gold Glove Award winner.
As the Reds’ super scout for 58 years, Bennett had the opportunity to spend time with the other member of the 2012 Hall of Fame class in the late Ron Santo.
“I knew Ron for a long, long time,” Bennett said. “When I would go to cover the Cubs, I would be up in the press box and around there and I would always go into the lunch room for food and Santos would come right in and we would sit there and talk all the time while we were eating. He was really a good guy. He’s really well-respected in Chicago and well-respected everywhere.”
Santo spent all but one season of his 14-year career with the Chicago Cubs and amassed 2,254 hits, 342 home runs and a career .277 batting average.
Santo’s wife, Vicki, gave the induction speech and Bennett came away impressed. He also was impressed by the amount of Cincinnati fans that made the long trip to Cooperstown.
“It was surprising that there were a ton of people from Cincinnati in there,” he said. “Most of them had on that pinstriped Larkin hat. On that plane coming back there were No. 11’s filling it up.”
Bennett’s only regret of the weekend is that he was out of town during the Challenger League State Tournament that took place at Gene Bennett Little League Fields in Wheelersburg.
“I knew the dates for the Challenger League and I absolutely wanted to be there,” Bennett said. “I was hoping they had something going on Friday because I could have been there but it didn’t work out that way. I really wanted to be there for that but I really had to be there for the Larkin thing. I was sorry to miss that.”
In a life packed full of baseball experiences, Bennett knew seeing one of his guys get into the Hall of Fame was something ranking near the top.
“This Hall of Fame thing was the biggest thing I have ever been at,” Bennett said.
Bob Strickley may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 203, or email@example.com.