Johnny Bench

Johnny Bench

Bench in July 2006
Born: (1947-12-07) December 7, 1947
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
MLB statistics
Batting average .267
Hits 2,048
Home runs 389
Runs batted in 1,376
Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Baseball Hall of Fame
Inducted 1989
Vote 96.42% (first ballot)

Johnny Lee Bench (born December 7, 1947) is an American 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 a key member of The Big Red Machine, which won six division titles, four National League pennants, and two World Series championships.[4][5] ESPN has called him the greatest catcher in baseball history.[6]

Major League Baseball career


Bench played baseball and basketball and was class valedictorian at Binger High School in Binger, Oklahoma. He is one-eighth Choctaw.[7] His father told him 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, playing for the minor-league Buffalo Bisons in the 1966 and 1967 seasons before being called up to the Reds in August 1967.[8] 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!"[5][9] 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.[4][10] Bench was the Reds' catcher on April 30, 1969 when Maloney pitched a no hitter against the Houston Astros.[11]

At age 20, Bench impressed many in his first full season in 1968,[12] and won the 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][5][13] 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][14][15] His 102 assists in 1968 marked the first time in 23 years that a catcher had more than 100 assists in a season.[16]

During the 1960s Bench also served in the United States Army Reserve as a member of the 478th Engineer Battalion, which was based across the Ohio River from Cincinnati at Fort Thomas, Kentucky. This unit included several of his teammates, among them Pete Rose.[17] In the winter of 1970–1971 he was part of Bob Hope's USO Tour of Vietnam.[18]


1970 was Bench's finest statistical season; he became the youngest man (22) to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award, hit .293, led the National League with 45 home runs and a franchise-record 148 Runs batted in, and helped the Reds win the National League West Division.[1][4][19] The Reds swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1970 National League Championship Series, but lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.[20][21]

Bench had another strong year in 1972, again winning the Most Valuable Player Award and leading the National League in home runs (40) and RBI (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][22] One of his most dramatic home runs[23] was likely his ninth-inning, lead off, opposite field home run in the final game of the 1972 National League Championship Series.[24] 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.[25][26] It was hailed after the game as "one of the great clutch home runs of all time."[27] However, the Reds would lose in the World Series to a strong Oakland Athletics team in seven games.[28]

In the winter of 1972, Bench had a growth removed from his lung. Bench remained productive, but he never again hit 40 home runs in a season. In 1973, Bench slumped to 25 home runs and 104 RBI, but helped the Reds rally from a 10 1/2 game deficit in July to the Los Angeles Dodgers to win a major league-high 99 games and claim another National League West Division. In the 1973 National League Championship Series, the Reds met a New York Mets team that won the NL East with an 82-79 record, which would have been 16 1/2 games behind the Reds had they been in the NL West. But the Mets boasted three of the better starting pitchers in the NL, future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack. Bench's bottom of the ninth-inning home run off Tom Seaver in Game 1 propelled the Reds to victory, but Seaver would get the best of the Reds and Bench in Game 5, winning 7-2 and sending the Mets to the World Series.[29]

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. The Reds won the second-most games in the majors (98) but lost the West Division to the Los Angeles Dodgers.[30] In 1975, the Reds finally broke through in the post season. Bench contributed 28 home runs and 110 RBI.[1][31][32] 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.[33][34][35]

Bench circa 1980

Battling ailing shoulders,[36] Bench had one of his least productive 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 .333 batting average against the Philadelphia Phillies.[1][37] The 1976 World Series provided a head-to-head match up with the New York Yankees and their catcher, Thurman Munson. Bench rose to the occasion, hitting .533 with two home runs to Munson's .529 average.[1][5][38] Bench led the Reds to the world championship and was awarded the World Series Most Valuable Player Award for his performance.[1][39][40] 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, "I don't want to embarrass any other catcher by comparing him to Johnny Bench."[41]

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.[42]


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 Saturday, September 17, 1983, "Johnny Bench Night" at Riverfront Stadium, in which he hit his 389th and final home run, a line drive to left in the third inning before a record crowd.[43][44] He retired at the end of the season at age 35.

MLB career statistics

Johnny Bench's number 5 was retired by the Cincinnati Reds in 1984.

Bench had 2,048 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.[24][45] Bench still holds the Major League record for the most grand slam home runs by a catcher with 10.[46] In his career, Bench earned 10 Gold Gloves, was named to the National League All-Star team 14 times, and won two Most Valuable Player Awards.[1][47][48][49] He led the National League three times in caught stealing percentage and ended his career with a .991 fielding percentage.[1] He caught 118 shutouts during his career, ranking him 12th all-time among major league catchers.[50] Bench also won such awards as the Lou Gehrig Award (1975), the Babe Ruth Award (1976), and the Hutch Award (1981).[51]

Bench popularized the hinged catcher's mitt, first introduced by Randy Hundley of the Chicago Cubs.[5][52][53] 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.[4] 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[54]), 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.[53]

Honors and post-career activities

Bench's statue at Great American Ball Park

Bench was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, in 1989 alongside Carl Yastrzemski.[55] He was elected in his first year of eligibility, and appeared on 96% of the ballots, the third-highest percentage at 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.[56][57] He is currently on the Board of Directors for the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame. In 1989, he became the first individual baseball player to appear on a Wheaties box, a cereal he ate as a child.[58]

For a time in the 1980s Bench was a commercial spokesman for Krylon paint, featuring a memorable catchphrase: "I'm Johnny Bench, and this is Johnny Bench's bench." [59]

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 boys and girls from the Tucson, Arizona, area would learn the game of baseball from Bench and other current and retired greats. The Chicken provided comic relief and former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda appeared as "The Dugout Wizard."

After turning 50, Bench was a part-time professional golfer and played in several events on the Senior PGA Tour.[60][61][62] He has a home at the Mission Hills-Gary Player Course in Rancho Mirage, California.[63]

In 1999, Bench ranked Number 16 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players.[64] He was the highest-ranking catcher. Bench was also elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team as the top vote-receiving catcher.[65] As part of the Golden Anniversary of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award, Bench was selected to the All-Time Rawlings Gold Glove Team.[66]

Starting with the 2000 college baseball season, the best collegiate catcher annually receives the Johnny Bench Award. Notable winners include Buster Posey of Florida State University, Kelly Shoppach of Baylor University, Ryan Garko of Stanford University, and Kurt Suzuki of Cal State Fullerton.

Bench signs autographs in Houston in May 2014

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, Johnny 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.[67]

On September 17, 2011, the Cincinnati Reds unveiled a statue of Bench at the entrance way of the Reds Hall of Fame at Great American Ball Park. The larger-than-life bronze statue by Tom Tsuchiya, shows Bench in the act of throwing out a base runner.[68][69] Bench called the unveiling of his statue, his "greatest moment."[70]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 "Johnny Bench Statistics and History -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  2. "Johnny Bench Baseball Stats by Baseball Almanac". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  3. "Johnny Bench Baseball Statistics [1965-1983]". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
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  5. 1 2 3 4 5 "". Retrieved June 1, 2016. External link in |title= (help)
  6. "ESPN Classic - Baseball's greatest catcher". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  7. "Video". CNN. March 31, 1969.
  8. "Amateur Baseball Draft - The Baseball Cube". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  9. "Johnny Bench Memorabilia Buying Guide | Autographed Sports Memorabilia and Sports Collectibles at Sports Memorabilia". Retrieved September 24, 2013.
  10. "Fastest Pitcher in Baseball by Baseball Almanac". Retrieved September 24, 2013.
  11. "April 30, 1969 Houston Astros at Cincinnati Reds Box Score and Play by Play -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  12. "Rookie Catcher Praised". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. July 23, 1968. p. 10.
  13. "1968 Awards Voting -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  14. "MLB National League Gold Glove Award Winners -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
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  16. "Progressive Leaders & Records for Assists as C -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  17. Gavin, Lapaille (July 24, 2014). "Charlie Hustle: As Rose Sported Red, He Marched in Army Green". Arlington, Virginia.
  18. Cook, William A. (2012). Big Klu: The Baseball Life of Ted Kluszewski. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. p. 144. ISBN 978-0-7864-6999-4.
  19. "1970 Awards Voting -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
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  21. "1970 World Series - Baltimore Orioles over Cincinnati Reds (4-1) -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  22. "1972 Awards Voting -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  23. "League Championship Series Overview | History". May 24, 2013. Retrieved September 24, 2013.
  24. 1 2 Retrieved June 1, 2016. External link in |title= (help)
  25. "October 11, 1972 National League Championship Series (NLCS) Game 5, Pirates at Reds -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  26. "1972 NLCS - Cincinnati Reds over Pittsburgh Pirates (3-2) -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  27. "GC1GQAB FP Series #226 – Johnny Bench (Traditional Cache) in Texas, United States created by drives". Retrieved September 24, 2013.
  28. "1972 World Series - Oakland Athletics over Cincinnati Reds (4-3) -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  29. 1973 National League Team Statistics and Standings won the series in five games win advance to the World Series against the Oakland A's.
  30. Retrieved June 1, 2016. External link in |title= (help)
  31. "1975 National League Season Summary -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  32. Peterson, Bill (April 23, 1995). "Big Red Machine Rates Among Best Ever; Balance of Offense, Defense made '75 Cincinnati Team So Great". Rocky Mountain News. Scripps Howard news Service.
  33. "1975 NLCS - Cincinnati Reds over Pittsburgh Pirates (3-0) -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  34. "1975 World Series - Cincinnati Reds over Boston Red Sox (4-3) -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  35. "Sporting News - NFL - NCAA - NBA - MLB - NASCAR - UFC - WWE". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  36. "Mom sees early Bench retirement". Milwaukee Sentinel. Associated Press. August 11, 1976. p. 5-part 2.
  37. "1976 NLCS - Cincinnati Reds over Philadelphia Phillies (3-0) -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  38. "Thurman Munson Statistics and History -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  39. "1976 World Series - Cincinnati Reds over New York Yankees (4-0) -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  40. "MLB Postseason World Series MVP Awards & All-Star Game MVP Award Winners -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  41. All Roads Lead to October (chapter 10) by Maury Allen, St. Martin's Press 2000 ISBN 0-312-26175-6
  42. "1979 NLCS - Pittsburgh Pirates over Cincinnati Reds (3-0) -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  43. "On Bench's special night, Houston spoils finish 4-3". Eugene Register-Guard. wire services. September 18, 1983. p. 7C.
  44. "September 17, 1983 Houston Astros at Cincinnati Reds Box Score and Play by Play -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  45. "Encyclopedia of Baseball Catchers Career Batting Leaders". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  46. "McCann and Bench". Retrieved June 24, 2013.
  47. "MLB National League Gold Glove Award Winners -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
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  49. "1972 Awards Voting -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  50. "The Encyclopedia of Catchers – Trivia December 2010 – Career Shutouts Caught". The Encyclopedia of Baseball Catchers. Retrieved December 29, 2015.
  51. "MLB The Hutch Award, Lou Gehrig Award, Babe Ruth Award & Roberto Clemente Award Winners -". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
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  55. "Johnny Bench". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  56. "Reds Retired Numbers". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  57. "Hall of Fame & Museum - Reds Hall of Famers". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  58. "Johnny Bench gets his picture on Wheaties box". Deseret News. wire services. July 6, 1989. p. D7.
  59. "Johnny's Bench, Krylon". YouTube.
  60. Carter, Ivan (August 12, 1998). "Johnny Bench attempts to make mark on Senior Tour". Catoosa County News. Ringgold, Georgia. Knight-Ridder Newspapers. p. 1B.
  61. Bench, Johnny (December 3, 1997). "My Shot: Still Swinging". Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  62. "Golf: Johnny Bench". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  63. Meeks, Eric G. (2012). Palm Springs Celebrity Homes: Little Tuscany, Racquet Club, Racquet Club Estates and Desert Park Estates Neighborhoods (Kindle). Horatio Limburger Oglethorpe. p. 392. ASIN B00A2PXD1G.
  64. "Johnny Bench at The Sporting News 100 Greatest Baseball Players". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  65. "The All-Century Team". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  66. "Gold Glove ::". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  67. "Page Not Found". Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  68. "Johnny Bench Bronze Age". The Cincinnati Enquirer. September 17, 2011. Retrieved August 24, 2012.
  69. "In Baseball's Bronze Age, Statues are Becoming Bigger Part of the Landscape". The New York Times. September 21, 2011. Retrieved July 19, 2012.
  70. "Bench calls statue his 'greatest moment'". September 17, 2011. Retrieved August 24, 2012.
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