CINCINNATI -- Johnny Bench, upon the dedication of the Great American Ball Park clubhouse in Bernie Stowe’s name, put it simply: “He was the best man I’ve ever known.”
“Bernie was part of us,” Pete Rose said on the day it was announced Rose’s No. 14 would be retired.
Every time media relations director Rob Butcher entered the clubhouse after a game, he’d tap the plaque of Bernie in a silent tribute.
During Sean Casey’s talk at the Elder Stag last year, he stopped early and often to “raise one up for Bernie.”
Stowe, the legendary clubhouse man, died Tuesday night at age 80.
Bernie started with the Reds in 1947 as a bat boy. He became equipment manager in 1968, just as the Big Red Machine Era was dawning.
Bernie was in Joe Nuxhall’s class when it came to being beloved in the organization.
“The thing that stood out to me about him was the way he dealt with people,” said longtime play-by-play man Marty Brennaman. “There are CEOs of major corporations who could have learned a lot from him with the way he dealt with superstars, with rookies -- it made no difference. He had such a way about him.
“I never heard a person, a player — it’s just like Joe — I never heard anyone say anything negative about him. I was with him for 42 years. The Big Red Machine, the bad teams in the 80s, the 1990 World Championship, and he was the same person all the time.”
Nuxy, by the way, was one of Bernie’s best friends.
“They were extremely close,” Brennaman said. “Essentially, they grew up together in the Reds organization. Nobody knew Bernie longer than Joe, professionally speaking. Out of that professional relationship came an extremely deep-seated friendship.”
To say the players loved Bernie is a gross understatement. He was this fun-loving, slightly mischievous guy. He’d come up to you and whisper a line that would just fracture you.
“He was certainly one of the funniest people I’ve ever known,” Brennaman said. “When he was serious — and he was always serious about doing his job — he was great at it.”
Bernie knew all the secrets of the Big Red Machine days. He did not share them. He was an old-school “what happens here, stays here” guy.
Bernie, like me, was an Elder guy. I’d say roughly half our conversations were about Elder football. Bernie was a regular at Elder Dads Club.
His son, Mark, is the visiting clubhouse manager. His son, Rick, is the home clubhouse manager.
I was having dinner at a restaurant Rick recommended to me (Giovanni’s in Green Township) when my phone beeped Tuesday night. When I saw the news that Bernie had passed, it gave me pause. My eyes got a little damp.
You don’t cover the Reds as long as I have without getting to know a lot of Stowes. I even know Jeff, the Stowe son who never worked in the clubhouse. “The smart one,” Rick says.
Mark’s son, Adam, and Rick’s son, Luke, have worked in the Reds clubhouse. I’m guessing Rick’s younger sons, Noah and Gabe, will eventually spend time in there as well.
The Stowes are good people. I feel tonight for Priscilla, Bernie’s wife. Bernie had been ailing in recent years.
When I got the word about Bernie, I took Casey’s advice from Elder Stag and raised one up for him.
He’ll be missed.
John Fay is freelance sports columnist. This column represents his opinion.