Johnny Bench was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the second round of the 1965 Amateur draft. He was valedictorian of his class at Binger High School in Oklahoma.
Johnny's father told him that the fastest way to the big leagues was to be a catcher.
Johnny Bench was called up to the Reds on August 28, 1967. He hit only .163 the rest of the season, but the Reds were impressed with his catching ability.
There's a good story about Johnny from a 1968 spring training game. He was catching and Jim Maloney was pitching. Bench called for a curve ball and Maloney shook him off. He wanted to throw the fast ball. Now, Maloney's fast ball was not what it once was so Bench continued to call for the curve and Maloney continued to shake it off. So Johnny went out to the mound and told Maloney that his fast ball was not "popping". Maloney cursed at Bench. So, back behind the plate, Bench called for the fast ball. As the batter took the pitch, Bench dropped his catcher's mitt and caught the ball bare handed!
I remember growing up watching Johnny Bench. He was totally different from other catchers and he was one of my heroes.
Other major league catchers caught the ball with two hands. Bench always kept his right hand behind his back to protect his throwing hand and caught the pitch with one hand. Soon all catchers adopted this style.
He also had a new type of catcher's mitt manufactured. Mitts of that day were round and had lots of padding. Bench had a "hinge" put in the heel of his mitt, much like a first baseman's glove, so that he could catch one handed and "swipe tag" runners at the plate. (Randy Hundley of the Cubs originally used this type of glove). Johnny revolutionized the catching position.
By the end of the 1968 season, there was little doubt as to who the National League Rookie Of The Year was. Johnny Bench won it with a .275 batting average, 15 home runs and 82 runs batted in. This was the first time a catcher won the award. He also won the Gold Glove, also the first time for a rookie catcher.
In 1970, Johnny became the youngest player ever to win a National League Most Valuable Player Award. He hit .293 with 45 homers and drove in 148 runs. The Reds won the National League West and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the playoffs. But they were defeated by the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
Johnny Bench was the National League's MVP again in 1972. He led the league with 40 home runs and 125 Runs batted in. Again the Reds beat the Pirates. In the ninth inning of the final playoff game, Bench hit a Dave Giusti change up into the right field seats to tie the game. The Reds won in the tenth on a Bob Moose wild pitch. But this time, the Reds lost a seven game World Series to the Oakland A's.
In 1974, Johnny Bench led the league with 129 runs batted in and 108 runs scored. This was only the fourth time that a catcher drove in over 100 runs and scored more than 100 runs.
Bench hit 28 homers and drove in 110 in 1975 as the Reds won the National League Western Division again. They swept the Pirates and went on to the 1975 World Series against the Boston Red Sox. Some baseball people think this was the greatest World Series ever. After an extra inning game six thriller, won by Carlton Fisk's famous home run, the Reds came back to win game seven.
Bench only hit 16 home runs and drove in only 74 runs in 1976. But against the Yankees in the World Series he hit .533 with two home runs as the Reds again won the series and Johnny was named the MVP.
In the later years of his career, Bench developed bad knees. During his last three seasons he only caught 13 games for the Reds. On September 17, 1983, the Reds had Johnny Bench Night at Riverfront Stadium. That night Johnny Bench hit his last home run. It was number 389.
Johnny Bench batted .267 with 2,048 hits, 389 home runs and 1,376 runs batted in during his 17 seasons with the Reds. He was a 14 time all star. His award include the 1968 Rookie Of The Year, the 1970 Major League Player Of The Year, the 1970 and 1972 National League Most Valuable Player, the 1975 Lou Gehrig Award, the 1976 Babe Ruth Award, the 1976 World Series MVP and the 1981 Hutch Award.
Bench was also a ten time Gold Glove winner. He led the National League in home runs twice and in RBIs three times.
Johnny Bench was elected to Baseball's Hall Of Fame in 1989.
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