In rural counties from the Ohio Valley to the Great Lakes basin, super-scout Gene Bennett became the face of the Cincinnati Reds organization during more than a half-century of evaluating talent for the franchise. The team changed ownership seven times since he began scouting in 1958. Thus far 11 different general managers have deemed Gene Bennett’s services indispensable to Reds operations.
He didn’t keep count, but between 1958 and 1988 Gene Bennett signed at least 100 players to professional contracts. For that job performance, Bennett has been awarded with nearly every major award a scout can win. Even so, Bennett’s activities during the rest of the year may well leave an even more lasting legacy. In the course of decades of volunteer activities to improve the educational and recreational opportunities for the youth of his hometown, Gene Bennett became an integral part of the renaissance of amateur baseball in the Tri-state region.
Gene Bennett was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, and resided for all of his life in Wheelersburg, a smaller city in the same county. He played two sports in high school and fell in love with an underclassman. Gene graduated from Wheelersburg High School in 1946 and married two years later. He and Loretta Maxine Bennett have two children and five grandchildren. Bennett played amateur baseball in local night and Saturday leagues until a Reds scout signed him to a professional contract in 1952. After five years of minor-league baseball, Bennett retired as a player and became a part-time scout. In 1991, the Reds officially promoted him to their front office. Bennett is currently the Senior Special Assistant to the General Manager.
Very little of Gene Bennett's life happened by accident. His forceful ebullient personality is at the core of the story of how this self-proclaimed country boy flourished in the hyper-competitive world of professional baseball for a half century. Such longevity required both extraordinary talent and an extraordinary love of the game.
A SPORTS-MAD COUNTY AND A HOLE IN THE STADIUM FENCE
The Ohio River winds through the Appalachian Mountains to form the western border of West Virginia, the southern border of Ohio and the northern border of Kentucky. Ohio's Scioto County is situated a few miles downstream from where the cities of Ashland (KY) and Huntington (WV) are separated only by the state line and the college sports loyalties of their inhabitants. By the standards of Scioto County, both are big cities. The population of the county peaked in the early 1940’s at 86,565 and was smaller in the year 2000 than it was in the 1950s. Portsmouth is the county seat. Wheelersburg is the only other true city.
Farmland is the principal scenery and the principal traffic hazards are slow-moving trucks carrying the output of strip mines. The surrounding counties of Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia are very similar. Anyone who talks with Gene Bennett for more than a few minutes quickly realizes that although his current job takes him out of the country, it will never take the country out of Gene.
Scioto County was deeply enmeshed in the history of American professional sports long before Gene Bennett signed with the Reds. Jim Thorpe played semipro football for the Portsmouth Steel-Shoes. The NFL’s Detroit Lions began as the Portsmouth Spartans. Branch Rickey lived in Portsmouth during the offseason, and local resident Al Bridwell, the man at bat when Fred Merkle made his infamous base-running error, was another figure of note. The wild finish of the 1908 pennant race was still being rehashed over hot stoves while Bennett was growing up.
Residents of the Tri-state region have always celebrated this sports heritage. Today there are gigantic murals on the Portsmouth floodwall depicting the exploits of professional and amateur athletes from the area. Through the joint efforts of local unions and businesses, Branch Rickey Park has been restored. The same ball field on which Walt Alston managed and Whitey Kurowski played now hosts the Gene Bennett Classic, involving top amateur baseball teams from across the nation. The populace and leadership alike plan to establish Portsmouth, Ohio as a Mecca for professional baseball scouts by making the invitational tournament one of their annual rites of summer.
Rickey placed one of the Cardinals’ farm teams in Portsmouth in 1938 and ten-year-old Gene Bennett was part of a group who watched games through a gap in the fence. Not content with this distant view of the game, he wriggled through the opening to get into the stands for free. The Portsmouth Redbirds spent only three seasons in town, but “Gene Bennett went out to the ballpark and he never came back.”
Bennett didn’t play any organized form of baseball until age 14. There was no Little League in his youth; kids played baseball whenever enough of them came together in the same place. His high school team was small, and the uncertain weather of the region allowed no more than 12 games between the end of the basketball season and the close of the school year. Bennett mostly played outfield, but also pitched and played some second base.
Although high school baseball opportunities were limited, amateur adult play was abundant in the area as Bennett grew up. Every coalfield had a team, and you didn’t have to work there to compete. In fact, expenses to the game were paid in the more competitive leagues, such as the one in Huntington where Bennett was playing when discovered by Reds scout Buzz Boyle.
After graduating in 1946, Bennett took a job at a grocery store. He was planning on getting married, but had to wait for two years until his intended graduated from high school. A knack for gauging a prospect’s commitment level to baseball and to the scouts’ franchise is an essential element in scouting; selecting Loretta Maxine proved to be Bennett’s most critical application of this ability. Without such a loyally supportive wife, his scout’s wandering would not have been possible. Health permitting, they will celebrate a 65th wedding anniversary in 2013.
Biographies circulated to reporters and similar interested parties by the Reds have indicated Bennett’s year of birth should be either 1930 or 1931. Gene was actually born July 29, 1928. In the six years between high school and the minor leagues, he completed three years of courses at Southeastern Business College, suffered a serious shoulder separation playing amateur baseball, experienced a close encounter with the Draft Board, recovered from the injury, and became a father. It was at age 24, rather than age 21, that Gene Bennett began his professional baseball career.
BALLPLAYER AND SCOUT
The Reds signed Bennett as an outfielder. His first manager was Johnny Vander Meer of double no-hit fame. The 38-year-old Vander Meer had been given his release by the Cleveland Indians two years before, after being hammered for six runs in his only major-league game of 1951. Vander Meer advocated leaving as little as possible to chance: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”
Injuries hampered Gene Bennett’s development into a major-league level talent. By 1957, “My shoulder got to where I couldn’t throw much. That was a big time problem back then because the things you had to do then — you really had to run and you really had to throw. It’s not like it is now. When you couldn’t throw, the chance of you going on to excel was pretty tough.”
An injured 27-year-old might have opted to see if next season might be better. At his actual age of 29, Bennett could tell that he was no closer to reaching the big leagues as a player than he had been when he graduated from high school. Playing while hurt wasn’t much fun and so he informed the Reds management that the 1957 season would be his last.
The Reds offered Bennett a chance to manage at the Class D level. They added that if he would rather be a scout then a position was available. Rather than accept right away, Bennett told them he would think about their offers. He was the father of two, but wanted to stay in the game. Being a manager was full-time, which meant it paid better and more regularly. Being a scout would be a part-time job, which would synchronize better with offseason jobs and business ventures.
Branch Rickey was already famous as an innovative and highly-successful baseball executive before he and Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball. Like Bennett, Rickey's offseason home was in Scioto County. Being an avid reader when it came to Branch Rickey and baseball, Bennett was quite aware of Rickey’s expertise in financial matters. The two men had met before. As general manager of the Pirates at the time, Rickey knew that Bennett had been playing for the Reds organization. One afternoon, when the two men happened to shop in the same place, Bennett opted to make his own luck by striking up a conversation with the great man.
"Branch Rickey was a very important man, not the sort you could just call up on the phone and ask for advice,” Bennett explained. “But there he was on the street. He already knew who I was, so I went over to talk to him.” After some general baseball talk, Bennett brought up his situation. “I told him what the deal was, that I wasn’t going to play anymore and the Reds told me they’d like me to be manager of a Class D league or even possibly be a scout. I asked him, ‘If you was in my shoes, which one would you do?’”
The wording of Rickey’s answer changes from telling to retelling, but the gist remains the same. Rickey pointed out that Bennett’s employment as a scout would be dependent on his own actions. If Gene worked hard and made good decisions he could keep the scout’s job for a long time. As a manager, Bennett could work just as hard, make all the right decisions, and still be quickly fired if his team lacked talent. His choice now clear, Gene Bennett called the Reds and accepted a part-time position as a scout. According to Bennett, the Reds had told him they only had six or seven other scouts at that time. “I immediately set out to create a network of ‘bird dogs;’ eventually I had one in every tree.”
Bennett could not be everywhere in his territory at once, so he needed to have a pair of eyes wherever a talented amateur player might play. A bird-dog is a contact who reports that a young player with possible major-league potential is playing in a local game. In this, Bennett was emulating the scouting technique by which Connie Mack discovered so many major-league stars.
The technique itself is no secret, but personality is the key to making it work. One needs to be the sort of person who routinely does small and large favors for others so that the recipients welcome the chance to return those favors in the form of tips and scouting reports. These contacts can easily switch allegiance, or reserve their best tips for a higher bidder. As happened for Mack, Bennett’s 40 bird-dogs remained loyal for decades. Several became full-fledged scouts for the Reds. Some, such as Leroy Jackson in Louisville, still work for him today. They are listed on the Reds ledgers as “commission scouts”.
Rickey had cited the desirability of holding tryout camps and the necessity of watching a prospect more than once, and Bennett was a true Rickey disciple in these matters. He also worked in techniques common to present day recruiting in college football and basketball. In amateur scouting, Job A is locating prospects. Job B is making a determination of which ones could help the franchise. Job C is getting their signature on a professional contract. Bennett used the tryout camps to address all three.
Bennett never wanted the kids to have to drive more than 75 miles to get to the tryout. Nor did he hold them in a big city unless it was competing with someone else’s tryout camp that same weekend. Attendance was normally 150 to 200 players, so Bennett brought a five-man evaluation team: himself, Steve Kring to hit fungos, two men to handle the pitchers, and always the local bird-dog, who had handled publicity and issued personal invitations.
“I watched each and every one of the kids….., stood beside them only four feet away, I wanted to see how they gripped the ball, how they positioned their glove and feet. …..I talked with each of them, encouraged them to call me Gene…. I didn’t want it to be some stranger in their living room when I arrived with a contract.”
Bennett made a point of talking to their parents as well. When he saw a promising high school sophomore he would write a letter inviting the boy to another tryout session the following year. Just as he sold insurance, mobile homes, and other products in the offseason, Bennett was selling the Cincinnati Reds organization. Bennett was and still is a top-notch salesman.
To succeed in his job as scout, Bennett had to acquire the skills of a high-school guidance counselor. He was encountering young men with enough physical tools to succeed, yet lacking the mindset to deal with the minor league apprentice they faced before reaching the major leagues. In professional sports besides baseball, a rookie normally has to undergo a rigorous tryout camp, where the issue to be resolved is mainly whether he is sufficiently mentally and physically skilled to beat out his competition for the limited roster spots. After that, however, he is just as much a part of the team as if he were a college recruit arriving on campus. He may have to watch from the sidelines, but he wears the team uniform and counts himself as one of the team. A baseball player, on the other hand, normally requires a minor-league apprenticeship of at least two full years.
Instead of the physically grueling tryout week, the prospect faces a mental ordeal that lasts years. There are long bus rides to places like Danville, Virginia. He experiences cheap hotels, small crowds, dilapidated stadiums, low pay, and little or no publicity. That requires either a very different mind-set, or the kind of character that cheerfully looks past obstacles to the long-term goal. Bennett got to know the recruits personally. That gave him a realistic chance to determine which were up to the apprenticeship and which would give up before reaching their full potential as ballplayers.
“I wanted to only sign kids who were really enthusiastic, who really wanted to play for the Cincinnati Reds someday.” If they were thinking about college instead, then Bennett would back off. He had Barry Larkin all but signed, but Larkin’s family wanted him to go to college. Bennett promised that his Michigan scout would keep watching Larkin’s development as a player. In 1985, the Reds made Larkin a first-round amateur free agent draft choice.
Bennett made a point of being scrupulously honest in his dealing with prospects and their families. Verbal frankness may have cost him a few signings in his early days, but it established his credibility and made him welcome in living rooms throughout the territory even before the first Bennett-groomed prospect reached the majors. Once local hero Don Gullett went from high school to the majors with just one year in the minor leagues. Bennett had rival scouts boxed out. The Reds were the team for which parents in the rural counties of Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana were rooting. And for the young ballplayers, Bennett represented the gateway to the Promised Land, a roster spot on the Big Red Machine.
Very much in the Branch Rickey tradition, Bennett put great importance on the ability to run and throw: “If I was looking at a position player, I looked [for] a player that could really run. I looked for a guy that had an outstanding arm, and then I test his eyes to see if he could see. If you sign players like that, if they ever hit, you don’t have a baseball player, you got a star. If he don’t hit, you got an outstanding utility player.”
When asked about hitting, Bennett responded that the two things he looked for were a quick bat and good vision of the ball. “If it was possible to teach hitting, I would have simply come to Louisville and pick out 10 good athletes and we’d make major league players out of them in a year. Unfortunately, that won’t work…You just never know who will hit and who won’t… But I do know that without a quick bat it’s mighty hard to be a good [major league] hitter.”
When scouting pitchers he looked for guys who can throw hard, and throw strikes. “If you’ve got competent pitching instructors, they can teach that guy a changeup or a curve, or something like that. But when you get a guy that can throw that ball up to 95 miles an hour, he don’t have to have much other stuff.”
Even though it was the hope of signing a future Hall of Famer that motivated Bennett, he became noteworthy for the volume of players he brought to the Reds. This volume itself had value to the major-league team. A franchise like Cincinnati cannot afford to stock itself entirely with stars, and excess quantity can be traded to acquire quality. In 1976 General Manager Bob Howsam held a meeting with the scouts and informed them that Reds policy for dealing with free-agency losses would be to sign and develop talent faster than it departed.
Bennett had been given the green light. He was already looking over as many as 5,000 prospects each year. Now he could sign five, six, even 10 prospects per year if he spotted that much talent. According to Bennett, six was the most he ever signed, and in his first nine years of scouting, he signed no future major leaguers. Be that as it may, starting in 1967 Bennett went on a two-decade-long hot streak that got him promoted to the full-time position of regional scouting director in 1975. In commenting upon Bennett’s scouting productivity the local paper admitted “Gene Bennett hasn’t signed every [Reds] player in the past six decades, it only seems that way.”
On Bennett’s recommendation, the Reds drafted Dave Tomlin of Maysville with their 29th-round draft pick in 1967. The left-handed pitcher spent parts of the 1972 and 1973 seasons as a reliever for the Reds before being included in the Clay Kirby/Bobby Tolan trade with the Padres in November 1973. While Tomlin was undergoing his minor-league apprenticeship, Bennett cornered the market on a left-handed pitcher who would have immediate major-league impact.
“Don Gullett, had he not had that shoulder problem, he would probably have gone down as one of the greatest pitchers in American baseball. I’ve signed good pitchers, but I never saw a high school kid in my life that even came close to this guy. I hear people today say ‘This guy’s better than Gullett,’ but Gullett’s changeup is better than anyone’s fastball.”
Within a year and a half of his signing, the teenage Gullett was pitching in the 1970 World Series. The following year he went 16-6 as a starting pitcher with a 2.65 ERA. Gullett became the number one starter of the World Champion “Big Red Machine” by age 24. His .686 winning percentage through age 28 ranks ninth-best all-time through 2010 for pitchers with 100 or more decisions. Surrounding Gullett on that lists are super-luminaries Juan Marichal, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, John Clarkson, Kid Nichols, and Jim Palmer. Unfortunately, injuries curtailed Gullett’s availability after 1974 and ended his career altogether in 1978.
In 1975, Bennett was promoted to regional scouting director and his area of responsibility was expanded to include Indiana, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada. Bennett went right to work training his scouting force and setting yet more bird-dogs in place. Bennett was now being paid enough to work full-time as a scout and the results won him a dozen Topps™ Scout of the Month awards and Topps™ Scout of the Year for 1988.
Bennett and the scouts he supervised brought in both role players like Skeeter Barnes and Eddie Milner, and all-stars like Jeff Russell, Chris Sabo, Paul O'Neill and Barry Larkin. Like Tomlin and Charlie Leibrandt, these players went on to lengthy major-league careers. Had Bennett not been overruled by other members of the Reds’ front office, this list would also include Leon Durham, John Smoltz, and Derek Jeter.
The Jeter case remains a sore spot in Bennett’s usually sunny disposition. “I had a deal worked out with him already,” Bennett said. “A cross checker came in and looked him and saw him play and said ‘He’s all right but he ain’t no first round pick.’ [Cross-checkers] are the smart guys that would come in and see a guy pitch two innings and bat twice, and they was the judge and the jury.”
It was only during the 1992 amateur draft that Bennett learned that the Reds would not use their first pick (#5 overall) on Derek Jeter. “They said, ‘The Cincinnati Reds take Chad Mottola,’ and I said, [sarcastically], ‘Yeah, the Cincinnati Reds just took Babe Ruth, too.' Then real quick I heard them say, ‘New York Yankees take Derek Jeter,’ and I said ‘Holy cow!’”
Cross-checkers likewise nixed Durham and Smoltz. Durham wore glasses; and there was a considerable prejudice against such players. Bennett’s view was that since the glasses gave Durham unusually acute vision at the plate, they were an asset rather than a liability. The St. Louis Cardinals agreed. They made Durham a first-round pick, and then used him to acquire future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter. “Smoltz was short-arming the ball”, a trait that Bennett realized was easily corrected. The Tigers signed Smoltz in September 1985, corrected his motion, and by mid-1987 were able to trade him straight up for veteran Doyle Alexander. Smoltz went on to win 213 major-league games and saved another 154.
While Bennett was building his resume as a remarkable amateur scout, during the offseason he was building a reputation as a better than average basketball referee. He started with high school games, and then officiated for the NCAA from 1970-1991. As Bennett pointed out when asked about job conflicts, even a regional scouting director has nothing to do during the offseason. His work officiating high school games earned him a place in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 1993.
ICON IN THE FRONT OFFICE
Starting in the mid-1980s, the Reds began having problems keeping the advance pro scout position filled into their satisfaction. Bennett was the man they called upon in the interim. After 1988 he went into the field primarily as a cross-checker. In late 1992, Bennett was named Special Assistant to General Manager Jim Bowden. He was 64; his boss was 31.
Bennett recently described his duties as special assistant. “I haven’t scouted a Class A game since 1991…These days I mostly scout major-league games, but basically I do whatever I am told, including sweep the floor. I don’t put much stock in titles.” Bennett’s new position had two basic duties; watch as many major-league games as possible and be prepared to give his advice concerning any player at the professional level. Such activities are widely referred to as “advance scouting”, but when Gene Bennett uses the term “scouting” he means taking in amateur games or holding tryouts.
Bennett’s time as field scout was over, but the players he signed continued playing in the major leagues and as they prospered so did Bennett’s reputation. Gene had worked with and trained many other scouts and when their success brought them press attention, Bennett’s name sometimes came up during interviews. Matt Arnold is now Director of Professional Scouting for Tampa Bay. The Blue Jays rely heavily on the judgment of Don Wilkie. Former Reds Scouts Alex Cosmidis (Cubs) and Gary Hughes (White Sox) were East Coast and West Coast Scouts of the Year in 2009.
The basic cause of these changes of allegiance was economic. With its world championship in 1990, Reds management had proved it could rebuild the team to a championship level in the face of losses to free agency. Other teams coveted that ability and made offers to Reds personnel. When these offers were not matched by the Reds front office the scouting force began to shrink by attrition. In his acceptance speech for Midwest Scout of the Year in 2009, Bennett offered special praise to the ones who stayed with the Reds: Fred Hays (Michigan), Leroy Jackson (Louisville), Harry Steinriede (Cincinnati), and Steve Kring (now responsible for Georgia and South Carolina.)
Bennett emphatically denies the story that circulated about owner Marge Schott's contempt for scouting. In Bennett’s version, a reporter overheard a humorous rejection of a raise for a particular scout. It is worth noting that his denial did not say that any scout received a raise in compensation.
Bennett’s involvement in his home community was a natural outgrowth of his children attending the same high school that he and his wife had attended. He was president of the athletic booster club for 17 years. During that time he lobbied local leaders to rebuild the high school football stadium. Partly as a result of these ultimately successful efforts, when Wheelersburg High School created its Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001, Gene Bennett was the first man honored.
Scioto County does have Little League teams today. They play on a six-field complex in a public park with Gene Bennett’s name on it. Shawnee State University in Portsmouth has a scholarship fund which enables local children to attend the local college the way Bennett attended Southeast Business College. That, too, bears his name.
Branch Rickey Field had fallen into considerable disrepair when area activists began discussion of an amateur invitational baseball tournament. Local governments were in no position to pay for any renovation but persuading local unions and business to donate time and material solved the problem. Bennett was one of those doing the persuading. In June 2010 the first Annual Gene Bennett Classic took place with teams coming from as far away as Texas. It is Bennett’s desire that as many local people as possible see firsthand what really good baseball is like.
Bennett was Topps™ Scout of the Year again in 1995, despite his reassignment to advance scout duties. The same is true of his 1994 selection as Scout of the Year by the Mid-Atlantic Baseball Scouts Association. In 1996 this same organization named Bennett to their Hall of Fame.
Bennett’s influence extended beyond recommending baseball players. Veteran umpire Charlie Reliford credits Bennett for his hiring by the National League. “Gene would always tell my boss, ‘You better buy his option before the American League gets him.'” Reliford was hired in 1991 and has thus far called two World Series, three League Championship Series, four Division Series, and two All-Star Games.
Bennett was part of the search committee the Reds set up to find a new general manager. The committee chose special advisor Jim Beattie in February of 2006, but Bennett and west coast scouting supervisor Larry Barton, Jr. convinced owner Bob Castellini to hire former Minnesota assistant GM Wayne Krivsky. This time Bennett's recommendation did not work out as he expected. And yet 17 months later, when the front office ended its game of musical chairs, the winners were Gene Bennett and his friend and protégé Walt Jocketty.
Krivsky made numerous changes in management as well as on the roster. Even though he has cited her among his reasons for accepting the position, Krivsky told scouting coordinator Wilma Mann that her services as “mother superior” to the field scouts were no longer desired. Barton quit a few months after that, citing fundamental differences over trades and roster composition as well as Krivsky’s unwillingness to take advice. Director of player development Johnny Almaraz resigned a few days later, also citing a reduced role in team decision making. The Reds front office was making more headlines for its turmoil than its trades.
Two years into Krivsky’s three-year contract, Walt Jocketty became special advisor to the president. Jocketty had trained with Bennett as a scout and rose to become general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. When the team got off to a 9-12 start in 2008, owner Bob Castellini dismissed Krivsky and installed Jocketty in his place. Shortly afterwards, Jocketty named Bennett as Senior Special Assistant to the General Manager. Gene said, “Not bad for a country boy.”
A PLACE IN COOPERSTOWN?
The role of scouts was relatively obscure to the average fan of the 1970s, yet they play an undeniably vital role in professional baseball. As Tommy Lasorda noted in 2010 at the Spirit of the Game fund-raiser, “Without scouts there would be no players.” Yet the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was doing little or nothing to recognize their contributions.
The Scout of the Year Foundation was formed in 1984 with the expressed goal of changing this. Its long-term goal was the admission of scouts as full members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Its intermediate objectives were to promote excellence and professionalism within the profession and to raise public awareness of baseball scouting to the extent that a permanent exhibit at Cooperstown would be created similar to what sportswriters enjoy.
With the assistance of such sponsors as Topps, the Baseball Blue Book, and Louisville Slugger, the Scout of the Year Foundation holds an annual awards dinner during the major-league winter meetings. Each year three scouts are honored: one from the West, one from the Midwest, and one from the East. In addition to attracting press attention, the awards created a permanent record of whom the scouting community regarded as the best of the best. Bennett was the Midwest honoree for 2009.
Major League Baseball eventually reacted to the rising public awareness of scouting. The Commissioner’s office began to publicly support the fundraising of the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation. Founded in 2003, in response to the acute financial distress of many former scouts, the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation makes grants to scouts and their families. The bulk of scouts are paid very modest salaries, making continuation of health insurance benefits a pressing concern. Older scouts were especially vulnerable to budgetary cutbacks instituted after the publication of the book entitled Moneyball. Bennett actively supports the work of this Calabasas-based foundation and made a point of mentioning its work during his phone interviews with the author.
Fundraising for this foundation includes proceeds from memorabilia donated and then auctioned at an annual gala now titled “The Spirit of the Game”. The highlights of this Hollywood-style celebration of baseball include the presentation of the foundation’s lifetime achievement awards. On January 2009, Gene Bennett was the first presented with the Legends in Scouting Award.
The award and its subsequent publicity came as no surprise to the people of the Tri-state region. For them Gene Bennett was already one of their living legends. They had a mural to prove it.
Gene Bennett died at the age of 89 on August 16, 2017, in Portsmouth, Ohio.
An earlier version of this biography appeared in "Can He Play? A Look at Baseball Scouts and Their Profession" (SABR, 2011), edited by Bill Nowlin and Jim Sandoval.
Interviews with Gene Bennett on August 2 and August 11, 2010. All quotations from Bennett are from these interviews unless otherwise attributed.
“Murals to Honor Gene Bennett” by Jim Walker. IrontonTribune.com. Originally published and posted January 7, 2010;
“Red letter career” staff , Ironton Tribune July 14, 2006.
Ibidem Scioto County Department of Health confirmed the date Bennett provided.
This raises the question of how the US Army got his birthdate wrong. Bennett suggested that, as he was never actually sworn in, the author’s web search found records that pertain to a different Gene Bennett from Wheelersburg, Ohio.
Acceptance Speech for 2009 Midwest Scout of the Year, by Gene Bennett, December 10, 2009. Video Is attached to “Bennett Honored as Top Midwest Scout: Earns award during 58th year with organization.” Reds.com.
“Bennett Talks about Career” by Ryan Scott Ottney, Portsmouth Daily Times, E-edition.August 18, 2010.
“Sign ‘em up Gene” by Jim Walker. Ironton Tribune, January 27, 2009
“Bennett to receive MLB Scout of the Year award” by Wayne Allen. Posted to Communitycommon.com, December 6, 2009. CommunityCommon.com is a weekly newsletter dedicated to events in the tri-state counties. The Topps™ awards are cited in multiple places including Walker, op cit, and by GM Walt Jocketty when introducing Bennett in “Acceptance speech.”
“Jeter a Red? It could have been” by Tim Sullivan, Cincinnati Enquirer. Enquirer.com on October 15, 1999.
"Around the Bases: Episode 28 Special Assistant to the GM Gene Bennett” on Shorebirds .com, home of Delmarva Shorebirds. Bennett is interviewed in the announcers’ booth during a minor-league game. Shorebirds.com.
“Umpire Ready for Trip Home” by Mark Maynard, Ashland Kentucky Independent.
“Departing Reds staffer takes shots at Krivsky” Dayton Daily News, December 5, 2006 by Hal McCoy, and “Reds Farm Director resigns” by Staff. Baseball America, December 14, 2006.
“Professional Baseball Scouts Dinner 2010 video clip” quote by Tom Lasorda, Official site for Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation.