Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer Johnny Bench apologized for an antisemitic comment he made this past weekend during a news conference to mark former General Manager Gabe Paul’s entrance to the team’s Hall of Fame.
Former Red Pete Rose was telling a story about Paul signing him to a $400 per month contract. Jennie Paul, Gabe Paul’s daughter, said “That’s cheap,” followed by Bench saying of Paul: “He was Jewish.”
“I recognize my comment was insensitive. I apologized to Jennie for taking away from her father the full attention he deserves,” Bench said. “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.”
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The remark was met by condemnation by Rabbi Ari (Ballaban) Jun, the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
“Everyone occasionally slips up with their words or makes a comment that they regret. More important than whether or not Johnny Bench made a joke that he shouldn’t have, is whether or not Mr. Bench recognizes his mistake,” he said. “With Mr. Bench having issued a public apology, we take him at his word that he is sorry. We consider the matter closed.”
The Reds organization has not commented on the incident, and Jun is planning to reach out to the team.
Jennie Paul said that she hadn’t heard Bench’s comment.
“I didn’t even hear him say that,” she said. “Johnny came up and said ‘Were you offended?’ and I said for what? 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.”
Gabe Paul died in 1998 at 88 years old. He oversaw the integration of Black and Latin players into the team in the 1950s. He was GM of the Reds from 1951-60 and also worked for the Cleveland Indians, Houston Colt .45s, and New York Yankees.
“He (Gabe Paul) was a minority himself. I don’t know if many of you know that he was Jewish,” Jennie Paul said during the news conference. “He was a very big proponent for the underdog because he was an underdog himself. He went into the Latin leagues and the Negro leagues and he signed as many minority players as he could, which strengthened the Reds.”