Where’s Tom Browning? The Missing Pitcher
During game 2 of the 1990 World Series, the Cincinnati Reds faced an unusual problem. They couldn’t find one of their pitchers. In this episode, we tell the story of Tom Browning and why he went missing during this iconic baseball game. Then stay tuned for a special trivia section for listeners at the end!
The Cincinnati Reds have had 17 no-hitters in their franchise history. A game where no batter from the opposing team gets on base from a hit. But they’ve only had one perfect game. That means no from the other team got on base at all. No errors, no walks, nothing. And it happened in 1988.
Tom Browning threw his perfect game on September 16 of 1988. It was his fifth season with the Cincinnati Reds and it was only the 12th perfect game ever thrown in all of Major League Baseball. He was having a great year and almost threw a no-hitter earlier in the season. But it was this game, pitched at home against the Dodgers, that put Tom Browning in the Reds’ history book – and made him only the second left-hander to throw a perfect game since Sandy Koufax in 1965.
Browning is best known for his perfect game in 1988, but one of the most interesting stories about his career happened when the Reds made it to the World Series two years later.
The Reds, managed by Lou Pinella, faced Tony La Russo’s Oakland A’s. The A’s had an incredible year – and were notable that year for some of their incredible hitters – Walt Weiss, Mark McGuire and Jose Canseco – all of whom had been named rookie of the year within the last 4 years. For the Reds, they were known for having a great bullpen. Their top pitchers – who were known as “The Nasty Boys” didn’t even include Tom Browning. They were Norm Charlton, Randy Myers and Rob Dibble.
Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-seven series were played in Cincy at Riverfront Stadium. The Reds won game 1 seven to nothing. The next game had an attendance of 55,832 – the 4th most attended game in stadium history. First Lady Barbara Bush threw out the first pitch. And the A’s came alive during that game. Thanks to an early score by Ricky Henderson, the A’s got on the board first. Later, Jose Canseco hit a homerun – his only one of the series.
As the game entered its fifth inning, the Red were trailing 4-3. Tom Browning wasn’t scheduled to pitch that night. He was on the board to be the starter when the Reds traveled to Oakland for game 3. So the game was close and Tom Browning got some news. His pregnant wife had gone into labor.
That was Tim McCarver calling the game on TV. The announcement had gone out on both TV and radio broadcasts.
Here’s what happened. The Reds were trailing and it wasn’t looking good as the game was winding down. Tom Browning was scheduled to pitch the next game, so he was in the dugout, not expecting to play that night. That’s when the clubhouse attendant found Tom Browning with a message he’d just received. He said “Tom, your wife Deb is getting in the car to go to the hospital.” She was pregnant and due any day to deliver their baby, so this was it. She was going into labor.
She was at the stadium watching the game and had walked herself to her car and was leaving to drive herself to the hospital. As she was trying to get out, there was a Reds van blocking her way, so she contacted the clubhouse to get it moved. This is how they found out and why they told Tom. She didn’t want him to leave the game. She just wanted them to move a van out of the way. But Tom didn’t think twice.
Tom Browning left the dugout and Riverfront Stadium, with almost no one knowing he had left. He was driving Debbie to the hospital.
Then, as Tom was making the drive to the hospital, the Reds batting came alive. Started by a Billy Hatcher triple, the Reds scored to tie the game in the 8th inning. And Manager Lou Pinella started making plans for if the game were to go into extra innings.
In the case the game wasn’t settled in 9 innings, Pinella started looking at what they were going to do for pitching. And that’s when he asked pitching coach Stan Williams where Browning was. He didn’t know. And if you watch the broadcast of the game, there’s a shot of Pinella, Williams and a few others standing around looking somewhat confused and panicky talking about Browning, trying to figure out where he was.
Eventually, the news was relayed to Pinella and the coaching staff that Browning had left the stadium. Pinella was angry – yelling to Williams the pitching coach, “What the hell is going on?!” That’s when they found out that Browning’s wife Debbie was giving birth. Pinella sent an urgent message up to the broadcast booth to long-time Red radio Announcer Marty Brennamen. He asked him to make a special plea on the air for Browning to get back to the ballpark.
Marty Brennamen later said he thought it was a prank at first and throughout his career, it was the most bizarre thing he’d been associated with.
When Tim McCarver put the announcement out on the Television broadcast, it was playing on 28.6 million TVs around the world. One of those TVs was in the lounge area just outside Debbie Browning’s delivery room, where Tom Browning was sitting in a chair, with a hospital gown over his Reds Uniform – baseball cap and all. The game remained tied at the bottom of the ninth and was heading into extra innings.
Tom Browning heard the plea for him to return to the ballpark and was amazed. He had left thinking nobody would miss him. Now he had a choice to make. He decided to ignore the call and stay in the hospital to be with his wife. He had missed the birth of his first child due to a baseball game, and he wasn’t going to miss this one.
As far as the Reds game – well Browning got lucky when Joe Oliver hit a double to send in the run to bring the Reds to victory in the 10th inning.
Debbie gave birth to their second child, Tucker Browning later that night. Two nights later, an unshaven Browning showed up in Oakland ready to pitch game 3 and expected to get an earful from Lou Pinella. But Pinella was happy for Tom Browning. He just asked him to maybe tell someone next time.
That should be the end to this part of the podcast, but there’s another fun little piece of information here. As I was researching this story, it came back to me that I went to one of the games in this series. I was 11 years old, in the sixth grade. We used to go to a lot of games at Riverfront stadium, and my dad had gotten lucky finding that some extra tickets were available, so he took me to one game and my brother to another. This isn’t even why I chose this story. I remembered it after the fact. So I texted dad and asked which game I went to. It was game 2. I was at this game! The first time I’ve ever – sort of – been part of one of these stories. The Internet says it’s True.
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