Johnny Lee Bench
Born: Dec, 7, 1947 in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Debut: 1967 | Pos: C
Ht: 6'1" | Wt: 208 | B: R | T: R
>> Visit the Johnny Bench biography on Baseball Almanac for complete statistics.
Look at a list of the top 5 catchers of all-time and Johnny Bench is a lock to be near the top (if not in the No. 1 slot). With his career accomplishments and his combination of power and defensive skills, induction into the Hall of Fame was a certainty.
A powerful contributor at the plate, Bench was equally as impressive behind it. In his first 10 full seasons in the majors, Bench brought home the Gold Glove 10 times.
During the 1970s, he was a key component of the Reds teams that won 6 division titles, 4 NL pennants and 2 World Series. Bench hit 10 home runs in postseason play with 5 of those coming in the World Series.
His list of career accomplishments is impressive:
Bench was born in Oklahoma City in 1947 and dreamed of being a major league player. Much of his success came from the help of his father who encouraged him to be a catcher. Bench was taught to throw 254 feet -- twice the distance from the plate to second base -- from his catching stance.
Behind the plate, he took advantage of his height and used a hinged mitt and one-handed catching style. Bench was also the first catcher to wear a protective helmet.
He was selected by Cincinnati in the second round of the 1965 draft. In 1966, he was name Minor League Player of the Year and had his number retired at just 18 by Peninsula of the Carolina League.
He started 1967 in Buffalo, but was a member of the Reds before the end of the season where he hit just .163. In spring training in 1968, Ted Williams gave him a baseball signed to a "Hall of Famer for sure."
Prior to the season Bench predicted he would be Rookie of the Year. Bench hit .275 with 15 home runs and 82 RBIs to win the honor.
In 1972, he was MVP again and hit a home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 5 of the NLCS. It tied the score with the Pirates and the Reds added another run that inning to win the game. The Reds lost the World Series to the As in 7 games.
The Reds won the World Series in 1975, but Bench struggled in the postseason. He rebounded in 1976 to hit .533 with 2 home runs in the World Series sweep of the Yankees.
This series touched off some controversy when Reds manager Sparky Anderson said Yankees' catcher Thurman Munson didn't measure up to Bench. Even Duke Snider, a retired Dodger got into the fray, saying that Bench would have only been good enough to be Roy Campanella's backup.
His offensive contributions began to decline by 1980 and after batting .255 with 12 home runs in 1983, he retired at the age of 35. In 1982, he convinced manager John McNamara to let him play third. Bench led the league with 19 errors.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989 on his first ballot with 96.4 percent of the vote (the third highest ever).
He was named to Baseball's All-Century team in 1999 and he works today in broadcasting.