Bernie Stowe had insider view to Reds history

Former Reds clubhouse manager Bernie Stowe passed away Tuesday at 80. He served 29 Reds managers, from Johnny Neun through Dusty Baker. In 2003, Stowe told his one-of-a-kind oral history to baseball writer John Erardi. That history, which dates back to Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in 1947, ran in full in the book "Opening Day" by Erardi and Reds historian Greg Rhodes. It is excerpted here:

"I grew up on the West End, about four blocks from Crosley Field. One day, when I was 12, a friend of mine, Ralph Tate -- he worked as a visiting batboy at Crosley Field -- got sick and asked if I could go down there and work for him. I was 12.

"The Board of Education got on me about being at the ballpark at 1 o'clock in the morning, waiting for a bus to go home. You know, after the game, we had to clean shoes and all that. Gabe Paul, the general manager, took me to the Board and said, 'Would you rather have this kid runnin' around or workin'?' That ended it.

"1947 is when Jackie Robinson came up. I had real blonde hair. I can remember Robinson and later Roy Campanella saying to me, 'C'mere! Let me feel that blonde hair!' They were great guys. And they were great tippers. They'd give me $5 a game -- each. That was big money back then. Carl Furillo, he'd give me $20 for three games. Pee Wee Reese was a good tipper, too. You got to remember now, this is when the Brooklyn Dodgers were always finishing in the money. They had class.

"It was only a few years later that we gave Sandy Koufax a tryout. Koufax was on a basketball scholarship at (the University of Cincinnati). The manager of the UC baseball team was also a bird-dog scout for the Reds and he told the Reds scouting director, Bill McKechnie Jr., 'This sumb---- can throw it through a wall.' So McKechnie had him brought over. I got Koufax a uniform to work out in. It was his first big-league uniform. Can you imagine if we had signed him? We'd have had Jim Maloney and Koufax back-to-back. Oh man! But Koufax couldn't find home plate, and we didn't sign him. We should've signed him, anyway, hard as he threw...

Photo courtesy Cincinnati Reds

"Later, you read and heard about how Cincinnati was one of the toughest places for Jackie Robinson to play. And it was, from what I saw and heard. Especially after the game. As soon as he showed his head, the fans just crucified him with boos. But Pee Wee Reese would always come up to him, give him the big hearty pat on the back, let him know he was there, and that was what mattered, not what these folks were saying. Pee Wee was his guy. I remember an off day the Dodgers had in Cincinnati, and Pee Wee drove Jackie with him down to Louisville (Pee Wee's home) to stay with him overnight. I've heard some guys say, 'Aw, it wasn't so bad.' But that's not the way I remember it...

"I was there when Klu (Reds slugger Ted Kluszewski) cut off his sleeves, which was probably 1955. At first he cut off only the bottom two inches. He wasn't a complainer, so it wasn't like I was always hearing him b---- about it. A short time later, we cut off the entire sleeves for him. We got the biggest uniform top we could find, and we cut from there. His arms were as big as my legs...

"When we switched over to the double-knits in 1971, it made our lives a lot easier. But there's other things that haven't changed much at all. Like guys wearing cabbage leaves soaked in ammonia water inside their caps on real hot days for day games. Barry Larkin still does that. He likes that. Most all of them still do it...

"My favorite player was Maloney. He was a fun guy. He lived off Colerain Avenue. In the wintertime, we'd go to his house and eat steaks. They had a butcher friend -- 'Shafe' Schaefer -- he owned this butcher shop, Schaefer Meats, and he aged these steaks. Wow! Maloney was a bundle of laughs. And he was good to the rookies.

"I got along well with (Reds slugger) George Foster, liked him a lot. He wanted me to come up to the dugout (from the clubhouse) and talk to his bat, 'Black Beauty.' So I'd do that. (Bernie adjusts the pitch of his voice to a high-toned squeal): 'C'mon, baby! Now don't let him down.' Foster gave me a trip to Hawaii after he hit those 52 home runs in 1977.

"(Reds slugger) Kevin Mitchell was a character. Ol' Mitch wanted to buy my T-Bird. He said, 'Oooooo, that sumb---- is cleaner than the Board of Health.' He wanted me to sell it to him right now.

"When Mitchell first joined us, the first season, he heard one of the players got a Mercedes. So Mitch calls up the dealer: 'Bring two of them up here -- let me see which one I want.' And he looks at them and says, 'Yeah, I'll take both of them.' That's when you know you're making too much money...

"(Reds manager) Fred Hutchinson, he liked the scotch. There used to be a saloon right across from the hotel in Tampa (Florida, where the Reds formerly held spring training). The White Rose Bar. Hutch and the coaches, they'd be in there, and they'd start arguing about something, like stealing bases. They'd get the bartender to give them a towel, and they'd lay it on the floor, and they'd be slidin' into each other in the bar! The next day you'd see the four of them, Hutch and the three coaches, and man were they hung over.

"I was there the night Hutch got so mad he threw baseballs through the window of the clubhouse at Crosley Field. Broke the window. He told the players, 'I'm coming back in here in 10 minutes, and you'd better be gone!' The players never showered or anything. (Head clubhouse man) Chesty Evans and I said to each other, 'Oh, man, do that more often!' We got out of there two hours early that night...

"(Reds manager) Lou Piniella was a character, too. We had turkey in the clubhouse one night. I had it catered. Had the guy in there carving it. We were ahead. Then we wind up blowing the game. Lou (rips) the bleeping turkey off the carving board and throws it off the wall. It hits the wall and bounces right back to where it'd been sitting! And Lou -- he's all worked up and agitated -- he just stops and looks at that thing and says, 'I'll be a son of a b----! I couldn't do that again in a million years!' "

John Erardi covered the Reds for 30 seasons, 1985-2014. He has authored or co-authored six books on the Reds and a fishing book out last year, "Mud Daddy Chronicles." He is working on a book about the Reds deep connection in Cuba dating back to 1892.

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