Johnny Bench


Sultan of Swat
Staff member
It's time to discuss about arguably the best catcher of all time. Johnny Bench was a great defensive catcher, and he was also a good offensive player. He won the MVP twice in his career 1970 and 1972, his best statistical season came in 1970 where he hit .293, 45 home runs and drove in 148 rbi's.

He finished his career with a .267 batting average and collected over 2000 hits, and hit 389 career home runs. He was a 14 time all star in his career, he won 10 gold gloves.

One of the reasons why he was known has a great defensive catcher was that revolutionized the position, I'll always remember this story about Bench. One day when a pitcher insisted on throwing fastballs even though he didn't have much velocity, Bench caught one of the pitches with his bare hand, just to make the point. In my opinion that is amazing.

He was eletected to the Hall of Fame in 1989.

It's time to discuss about Johnny Bench.


When Johnny Bench had been in the majors for 2 or 3 years, I told my dad that Mickey Cochrane had just lost his place as the greatest catcher in MLB history. My dad rolled his eyes at this obviously premature pronouncement and said to his 17-year-old son, "OK, Jim." Some 20 years later, he reminded me of that conversation and said I'd been right.

Well, maybe. If you don't give Roy Campanella credit for 5 or 6 MLB seasons lost to segregation, I would pick Bench as my #1 catcher, with Berra and Cochrane close behind and my one-man jury still out on Mike Piazza. (Don't even mention either of the two Pudges in this contest. They're on the next rung of catchers, but they're not candidates for #1 all time.) Bench burned out young because Sparky Anderson overused him, but by the same token, Bench caught 1,742 games, which is no record, but neither is it insubstantial. To the contrary, it's a very substantial number of games and almost 300 games MORE than Cochrane caught, thanks to the beanball that almost killed him and precipitately ended his career in 1937.

During his time, Bench had Jim Sundberg to rival him as a defensive catcher, but he was far and away the best total catcher in the game. That is necessarily something which neither Campy nor Berra can say, though both were clearly the best catchers in their leagues during their playing days.

It seems to me that people nowadays "only" remember Bench as a HR hitter and a phenomenal defensive catcher. That's enough, obviously, and Bench hit one of the most important HR's in MLB history to lead off the bottom of the 9th inning of the 5th-and-deciding game of the 1972 NLCS. The Reds went on to score another run 2 outs later, on an ignominious wild pitch, and win the NL pennant.

On the other hand, my ex-wife and I were watching a game at Candlestick Park, circa 1982, when the Giants' young star pitcher--he turned out to be a shooting star--Atlee Hammaker, had a perfect game through 7 innings. As you can imagine, the few Giants fans who were in attendance and anything close to sober watched with rapt attention. Well, who should lead off the top of the 8th inning but the cleanup hitter, one Johnny Bench. He promptly drilled a Hammaker slider for a solid line single into the outfield, and that was that. (I believe Hammaker wound up with a 2-hit shutout.) Bench said after the game that he'd timed Hammaker's slider while standing in the batter's box with 2 outs in the 7th.

Like all great defensive catchers--a category which Bench and Campanella were born into, but which Cochrane had to work very hard to get into--Bench was extremely intelligent. Can you just imagine what it was like to be one of the everyday players on that team during its glory years? You had Pete Rose, the game's ultimate red-ass, and you had possibly the two smartest players I've ever seen, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench. Wouldn't it have been fun to be one of the other players on that team, and make some stupid mistake due to a mental lapse? Which one of the three do you think would have been first to kick your ass?

Like almost everyone else, it's my view that the Reds' best player in their back-to-back championship years of 1975-1976, by far, was Joe Morgan. But it's also my view that the Yankees' best player of the late 1920's, by far, was Babe Ruth. That doesn't make Lou Gehrig anything less than great himself, and Morgan's spectacular back-to-back MVP seasons in 1975-1976 don't make Bench any less great, either.

There are 5 guys, if you leave Josh Gibson out of the mix, who rationally can be argued as the greatest catcher of all time. In chronological order, they are: Mickey Cochrane, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench and Mike Piazza. If you go solely by what they did in the majors, and ignore the obvious fact Campanella got screwed out of a bunch of seasons when he was in his physical prime, I think Bench is #1.

'Nuff said.