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Johnny Bench

Born: December 7, 1947 (1947-12-07) (age 62)
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Batted: Right Threw: Right 
MLB debut
August 28, 1967 for the Cincinnati Reds
Last MLB appearance
September 29, 1983 for the Cincinnati Reds
Career statistics
Batting average     .267
Home runs     389
Runs batted in     1,376
Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg
Induction     1989
Vote     96.42%

Johnny Lee Bench (born December 7, 1947 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) is a former professional baseball catcher who played in the Major Leagues for the Cincinnati Reds from 1967 to 1983 and is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. [1][2][3] Bench, a 14-time All-Star selection and a two-time National League Most Valuable Player, was the best offensive and defensive catcher of the 1970s, and was a key member of the The Big Red Machine, which won six division titles, four National League pennants, and two World Series championships.[4 ] [5]


Major League Baseball career

Johnny Bench played baseball and basketball and was class valedictorian at Binger High School in Binger, Oklahoma. His father told him that he felt that the fastest route to becoming a major leaguer was as a catcher. Bench was drafted 36th overall by the Cincinnati Reds in the second round of the 1965 amateur draft and was called up in August 1967.[6] He hit only .163, but impressed many with his defense and strong throwing arm. Among them: Hall of Famer Ted Williams. Williams signed a baseball for him which predicted that the young catcher would be "A Hall of Famer for sure!"[4 ][7] Williams' prediction eventually became fact with Johnny Bench's election to the Hall of Fame in 1989.

During a spring training game in 1968, Bench was catching the eight-year veteran right-hander Jim Maloney. Once a noted hard thrower, injuries had reduced Maloney's fastball's speed dramatically by this time. However, Maloney insisted on repeatedly "shaking off" his younger catcher and throwing the fastball instead of the breaking balls Bench called for. An exasperated Bench bluntly told Maloney, "Your fastball's not popping". Maloney replied with an epithet. To prove to Maloney that his fastball wasn't effective anymore, Bench called for a fastball, and after Maloney released the ball, Bench dropped his catcher's mitt and comfortably caught the fastball barehanded. [5][8] Bench was the Reds' catcher on April 30, 1969 when Maloney pitched a no hitter against the Houston Astros.[9]

Bench won the 1968 National League Rookie of the Year Award, batting .275 with 15 home runs and 82 RBIs, marking the first time the award had been won by a catcher. [1][4 ][10] He also won the 1968 National League Gold Glove Award for catchers, marking the first time the award had been won by a rookie. [1][11][12] 1970 was Bench's finest statistical season; he became the youngest man to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award, hit .293, led the National League with 45 home runs and 148 Runs batted in, and helped the Reds win the National League West Division. [1] [5][13] The Reds swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1970 National League Championship Series, but lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.[14][15]

Bench had another strong year in 1972, again winning the Most Valuable Player Award and leading the National League in home runs (40) and RBIs (125), to help propel the Reds to another National League West Division title, and a five game victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1972 National League Championship Series. [1][16] One of his most dramatic home runs was likely his ninth-inning, lead off, opposite field home run in the final game of the 1972 National League Championship Series. [17] The solo shot tied the game 3-3, in a game the Reds went on to win later in the inning on a wild pitch, 4-3.[18][19] It was hailed after the game as "one of the great clutch home runs of all time." However, the Reds would lose in the World Series to a strong Oakland Athletics team in seven games.[20]

The Reds once again won the National League West Division in 1973, with Bench producing another hundred-plus RBI season, however they faltered in the 1973 National League Championship Series, and were upset by the statistically weaker New York Mets team.[21] In 1974, Bench led the league with 129 RBI and scored 108 runs, becoming only the fourth catcher in major league history with 100 or more runs and RBI in the same season.[22] By 1975, the Reds were at the peak of their powers and became known as the "Big Red Machine", with Bench contributing 28 home runs and 110 RBIs. [1][23][24] The Reds swept the Pirates in three games to win the 1975 National League Championship Series, and defeated the Boston Red Sox in a memorable seven game World Series.[25][26][27]

Bench had one of his worst years in 1976, hitting only 16 home runs and 74 RBIs, however, he recovered in the 1976 National League Championship Series to hit for a .385 batting average against the Philadelphia Phillies. [1][28] The 1976 World Series provided a head to head match up with the New York Yankees and their catcher, Thurmon Munson. Bench rose to the occasion, hitting .533 with two home runs to Munson's .529 average. [1][4 ][29] Bench led the Reds to the world championship and was awarded the World Series Most Valuable Player Award for his performance. [1][30][31] At the post-World Series press conference, Reds manager Sparky Anderson was asked by a journalist to compare Munson with his catcher, Johnny Bench. Anderson replied, "You don't compare anyone to Johnny Bench. You don't want to embarrass anybody".[32]

He bounced back to hit 31 home runs and 109 RBIs in 1977, but the Reds would only reach the post-season once more during Bench's career, when the 1979 Reds were swept in three games by the Pirates in the 1979 National League Championship Series.[33] By the latter part of his career, Johnny Bench was being compared to the greatest catchers in baseball history, but the years behind the plate began taking their toll on his knees, which is a common ailment for catchers. For the last three seasons of his career, Bench caught only 13 games and played mostly first base or third base. The Cincinnati Reds proclaimed September 17, 1983, "Johnny Bench Night" at Riverfront Stadium. During the game he hit his 389th and final home run.[34] He retired at the end of the season.

Major League career statistics

Bench had 2048 hits for a .267 career batting average with 389 home runs and 1,376 RBI during his 17-year Major League career, all spent with the Reds. [1] He retired as the career home run leader for catchers, a record which stood until surpassed by Carlton Fisk and the current record holder, Mike Piazza. [17][35] In his career, Bench earned ten Gold Gloves, was named to the National League All-Star team 14 times, and won two Most Valuable Player Awards. [1][36][37][38] He also won such awards as the Lou Gehrig Award (1975), the Babe Ruth Award (1976), and the Hutch Award (1981).[39]

Although baseball history is filled with many outstanding catchers, such as Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Gabby Hartnett and Mickey Cochrane, arguably, no player revolutionized the position like Johnny Bench. The catcher's equipment was traditionally called "the tools of ignorance" as many catchers lacked the fielding skills or quickness to play elsewhere. But Bench, who was big (6'1" and 210 pounds) and athletic, inspired many young ballplayers to become catchers and teams began seeking and developing more athletic ballplayers for the position. Bench popularized the hinged catcher's mitt, first introduced by Randy Hundley of the Chicago Cubs.[4 ][40][41] He began using the mitt after a stint on the disabled list in 1966 for a thumb injury on his throwing hand. The mitt allowed Bench to tuck his throwing arm safely to the side when receiving the pitch. [5] By the turn of the decade, the hinged mitt became standard catchers' equipment. Having huge hands (a famous photograph features him holding seven baseballs in his right hand[42]), Bench also tended to block breaking balls in the dirt by scooping them with one hand instead of the more common and fundamentally proper way: dropping to both knees and blocking the ball using the chest protector to keep the ball in front.

Honors and post-career activities

Bench was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, in 1989 alongside Carl Yastrzemski. He was elected in his first year eligible and appeared on 96% of the ballots, the third-highest percentage to that time. Three years earlier, Bench had been inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 1986 and his uniform #5 was retired by the team.[43][44] He is currently on the Board of Directors for the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.

In 1985, Bench starred as Joe Boyd/Joe Hardy in a Cincinnati stage production of the musical Damn Yankees, which also included Gwen Verdon and Gary Sandy. He also hosted the television series The Baseball Bunch from 1982 to 1985. A cast of children, both boys and girls, from the Tucson, Arizona, area would learn the game of baseball from Bench and current and retired greats. The Chicken provided comic relief and former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda appeared as "The Dugout Wizard."

In 1999, Bench ranked Number 16 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players.[45] He was the highest-ranking catcher. Bench was also elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team as the top vote-receiving catcher.[46] As part of the Golden Anniversary of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award, Bench was selected to the All-Time Rawlings Gold Glove Team.[47]

Starting with the 2000 college baseball season, the best collegiate catcher annually receives the Johnny Bench Award. The most recent winner was Buster Posey of Florida State University, who is currently in the farm system of the San Francisco Giants. Notable winners include Kelly Shoppach of Baylor University, Ryan Garko of Stanford University, and Kurt Suzuki of Cal State Fullerton. (Garko has been converted to a first baseman), and Suzuki plays for the Oakland Athletics.

In 2008, Bench co-wrote the book Catch Every Ball: How to Handle Life's Pitches with Paul Daugherty, published by Orange Frazer Press. An autobiography published in 1979 called Catch You Later was co-authored with William Brashler. Bench has also broadcast games on television and radio, and is an avid golfer, having played in several Champions Tour tournaments.

In a September 2008 interview with Heidi Watney of the New England Sports Network, Bench, who was watching a Cleveland Indians/Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park, did an impression of late Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray after Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis, a native of Cincinnati, made a tough play. While knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was on the mound for the Red Sox, he related a story that then-Reds manager Sparky Anderson told him that he was thinking of trading for knuckleballer Phil Niekro. Bench replied that Anderson had better trade for Niekro's catcher, too.[48]

In 2004, Bench received a total hip replacement after his natural hip had worn down to bone-on-bone and gave him constant pain. The condition resulted from the repetitive squatting and rising during the course of his baseball career. Bench was fitted with a Stryker ceramic hip and has since become a spokesman for the company. Bench, who says he has experienced some squeaking, quipped, “I don’t care if it plays "Dixie."[49]

See also

External links


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Johnny Bench at Baseball Reference
  2. ^ Johnny Bench at Baseball Almanac
  3. ^ Johnny Bench at The Baseball Cube
  4. ^ a b c d e Johnny Bench at The Baseball Library
  5. ^ a b c d
  6. ^ 1965 Amateur Baseball Draft, Second Round at The Baseball Cube
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ April 30, 1969 Astros-Reds box score at Baseball Reference
  10. ^ 1968 Rookie of the Year Award voting results at Baseball Reference
  11. ^ 1968 National League Gold Glove Award winners at Baseball Reference
  12. ^ Baseball Digest, February 1998
  13. ^ 1970 National League Most Valuable Player Award voting results at Baseball Reference
  14. ^ 1970 NLCS at Baseball Reference
  15. ^ 1970 World Series at Baseball Reference
  16. ^ 1972 National League Most Valuable Player Award voting results at Baseball Reference
  17. ^ a b Johnny Bench: Number 1 Home Run Hitter of All Catchers, by Hal McCoy, Baseball Digest, December 1980, Vol. 39, No. 12, ISSN 0005-609X
  18. ^ 1972 NLCS Game 5 box score at Baseball Reference
  19. ^ 1972 NLCS at Baseball Reference
  20. ^ 1972 World Series at Baseball Reference
  21. ^ 1973 National League Team Statistics and Standings
  22. ^ Baseball Digest January 1980, Vol. 39, No. 1, ISSN 0005-609X
  23. ^ 1975 National League Team Statistics and Standings
  24. ^ Peterson, Bill (1995-04-23). "Big Red Machine Rates Among Best Ever; Balance of Offense, Defense made '75 Cincinnati Team So Great". Rocky Mountain News (Scripps Howard news Service).  
  25. ^ 1975 NLCS at Baseball Reference
  26. ^ 1975 World Series at Baseball Reference
  27. ^ 1975 World Series at The Sporting News
  28. ^ 1976 NLCS at Baseball Reference
  29. ^ Thurmon Munson post-season batting statistics at Baseball Reference
  30. ^ 1976 World Series at Baseball Reference
  31. ^ Post-season Awards at Baseball Reference
  32. ^ All Roads Lead to October (chapter 10) by Maury Allen, St. Martin's Press 2000 ISBN 0-312-26175-6
  33. ^ 1979 NLCS at Baseball Reference
  34. ^ September 17, 1983 Astros-Reds box score at Baseball Reference
  35. ^ The Encyclopedia of Baseball Catchers
  36. ^ Gold Glove Award winners at Baseball Reference
  37. ^ 1970 Most Valuable Player Award voting results at Baseball Reference
  38. ^ 1972 Most Valuable Player Award voting results at Baseball Reference
  39. ^ Lou Gehrig Award, Babe Ruth Award, Hutch Award winners at Baseball Reference
  40. ^ Randy Hundley at The Baseball Library
  41. ^ Are Catchers Today As Good Defensively As In The Past?, by Rick Van Blair, Baseball Digest, March 1994, Vol. 53, No. 3, ISSN 0005-609X
  42. ^
  43. ^ Cincinnati Reds retired numbers at
  44. ^ Johnny Bench at the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame
  45. ^ Johnny Bench at The Sporting News 100 Greatest Baseball Players
  46. ^ Johnny Bench at The Major League Baseball All-Century Team
  47. ^ Johnny Bench at the Rawlings All Time Gold Glove Award winners
  48. ^
  49. ^


  • Hench Ench


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