Johnny Bench has been many things in his career: sportscaster, author, Bobble head. He's toured with Bob Hope, sang in front of sold-out audiences, and has logged thousands of hours offering motivational speeches nationwide. All of these by themselves or as a collective provide the backbone for one of the most interesting lives in modern American history. And yet, for Bench, these are but meager accomplishments: after all, being named to Major League Baseball's All Century Team is no easy feat. As a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds from 1968 until his retirement in 1983, Bench was the best catcher of his era, and one of the best all-time. Here is Johnny Bench: Beyond The Gloryâ„¢.

"I don't want to embarrass any other catcher by comparing him with Johnny Bench."
Sparky Anderson, Reds manager

Early Life

Johnny Lee Bench was born December 7, 1947 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 6 years to the date after the bombing at Pearl Harbor. His father was a rancher of modest means (and the son of a Cherokee), but he encouraged his son's early baseball proficiency. When Bench was 14, his father told him the fastest route to the Major Leagues was as a catcher. Bench heeded his father's advice, and in 1965 was drafted in the 2nd round by the Cincinnati Reds.

Bench quickly made his mark in the minor leagues: playing for Peninsula of the Carolina League, he belted 22 home runs in 98 games. When he was only 18.

The team retired his number that year.

The Major Leagues

In August 1967, Bench was called up to catch for the Reds. He struggled in the final months of the year, batting only .163. The buzz around Bench was still strong, though. During spring training in 1968, Hall of Famer Ted Williams signed a ball to Bench on which he wrote,

"To Johnny Bench, a Hall of Famer for sure."

Big words from a man who had played against the likes of Yogi Berra, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, and Elston Howard.

In 1968, Bench set the record for doubles by a catcher with 40. He caught 154 games, and was named National League Rookie Of The Year, and made his first of 13 consecutive trips to the All-Star Game. After another All-Star season in 1969, Bench had a phenomenal year in 1970, setting the all-time records for home runs (45) and RBIs (148) by a catcher and winning the MVP award. Although his team was swept in the World Series by the Baltimore Orioles, it would not be his last trip to the Fall Classic.

Contract issues led to Bench holding out for most of spring training in 1971, where he only batted .238. In 1972, Bench was back in full form, again leading the league in home runs and RBIs and again winning the MVP Award. And again, the Big Red Machine lost the World Series, this time in 7 games to the Charley Finley's Oakland Athletics.

While Bench's offensive statistics are some of the most dominating for catchers all-time (and among players all-time), he was very much renowned for his defensive prowess. Winner of 10 consecutive Gold Gloves, Bench was also noted for developing the one-handed catching style still used to day, and he is lauded as the first catcher to wear a protective helmet in a regulation game. He was considered the best catcher at throwing potential basestealers out of all time.

"I can throw out any man alive."
Johnny Bench

In 1975, Bench batted .283 with 28 home runs, and again led his Reds to the World Series, a World Series to remembered throughout the ages for Carlton Fisk's 12th-inning, Game 6 home run that won the game for the Boston Red Sox. The Reds came back in game 7, however, to win the Series, giving Bench his first title. The Reds won the Series again in 1976, although Bench had his worst season in professional baseball, batting only .234 and being plagued by ankle injuries.

Bench never again won a World Series, and despite attempts to move him out from the physically demanding catcher position, he played less than 200 games at any other position. Bench retired in 1983, the all-time home run and RBI leader for catchers (later surpassed by Carlton Fisk), and one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game.

Bench was elected to the Hall of Fame his first year of eligibility by 96% of the voting members.

After Baseball

Although Bench's playing days were over, his affiliation with baseball was far from it. Upon retiring, he appeared on PBS's Emmy Award-winning show The Baseball Bunch and hosted their special on Billy Sunday. He also sang 3 sold-out shows with the Cincinnati Pops. He also began doing radio broadcasts with CBS Radio, announcing their National League Game of the Week, as well as the All-Star Game, National League playoffs, and the World Series. He also does a weekly call-in show in Cincinnati to discuss the Reds and baseball in general.

Bench has also branched out in many ways. He hosts two shows on the Golf Channel, Mastering Golf and Golf in Paradise, and participates in many celebrity pro-ams throughout the United States each year. He has toured with Bob Hope and the USO to Desert Storm and Bosnia, and also gives motivational speeches throughout the world. He is a tireless supporter and spokesperson for many charities, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and the American Kidney Foundation.

"If you want to be a catcher, watch Johnny Bench."
Pete Rose

Lifetime Statistics

 YEAR   TEAM    G   AB    R    H   D  T  HR  RBI  SB CS  BB    K    BA
 1967 CIN NL   26   86    7   14   3  1   1    6   0  1   5   19  .163
 1968 CIN NL  154  564   67  155  40  2  15   82   1  5  31   96  .275
 1969 CIN NL  148  532   83  156  23  1  26   90   6  6  49   86  .293
 1970 CIN NL  158  605   97  177  35  4  45  148   5  2  54  102  .293
 1971 CIN NL  149  562   80  134  19  2  27   61   2  1  49   83  .238
 1972 CIN NL  147  538   87  145  22  2  40  125   6  6 100   84  .270
 1973 CIN NL  152  557   83  141  17  3  25  104   4  1  83   83  .253
 1974 CIN NL  160  621  108  174  38  2  33  129   5  4  80   90  .280
 1975 CIN NL  142  530   83  150  39  1  28  110  11  0  65  108  .283
 1976 CIN NL  135  465   62  109  24  1  16   74  13  2  81   95  .234
 1977 CIN NL  142  494   67  136  34  2  31  109   2  4  58   95  .275
 1978 CIN NL  120  393   52  102  17  1  23   73   4  2  50   83  .260
 1979 CIN NL  130  464   73  128  19  0  22   80   4  2  67   73  .276
 1980 CIN NL  114  360   52   90  12  0  24   68   4  2  41   64  .250
 1981 CIN NL   52  178   14   55   8  0   8   25   0  2  17   21  .309
 1982 CIN NL  119  399   44  103  16  0  13   38   1  2  37   58  .258
 1983 CIN NL  110  310   32   79  15  2  12   54   0  1  24   38  .255
 CAREER      2158 7658 1091 2048 381 24 389 1376  68 43 891 1278  .267
* Bold denotes led league.

Sources:

  • Baseball-Reference.com - http://www.baseball-reference.com/b/benchjo01.shtml
  • BaseballLibrary.com - http://www.pubdim.net/baseballlibrary/ballplayers/B/Bench_Johnny.stm
  • JohnnyBench.com - http://www.johnnybench.com

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