MLB Team of All Time, Catcher: Johnny Bench

With 45% of the vote at the time of writing, Bench hasn’t secured a majority, but given the talent of the candidates, that’s no surprise. Josh Gibson came in second (27%), ahead of Yogi Berra (18%).

Johnny Bench was a fixture of the Cincinnati Reds, playing his entire professional career with them, from his draft by the Reds in the second round of the 1965 draft, to his retirement at the end of the 1983 season. Seven catchers were selected. before Bench: None of them have matched their production (Ray Fosse, home touchdown by Pete Rose in the 1970 All-Star Game, had the best career, at 12.8 bWAR). Although he was only 17 at the time, it didn’t take long for Bench to make the majors, being called up in August 1967. The following spring training, Ted Williams signed a baseball. for the rookie, “To Johnny Bench, a Hall of Famer for sure. Whether he’s kidding or not, Williams was right.

Bench made an instant impression in his first full season, appearing in 154 games and batting .275 with 15 HR. He not only won the Rookie of the Year award – the first wide receiver to do so – he also won the Golden Glove in that position, the first rookie there. Bench made the first of his 14 All-Star rosters, and at the time was the third youngest player to do so [the following year, he became the youngest to homer in the ASG, a record he still holds] Two years later, in 1970, Bench had one of the best seasons in catcher’s history, reaching 0.293 with 45 home runs. He set a record for HR by a wide receiver who held for over fifty years, under Salvador Perez he reached 48 for the Royals last season. Bench 148 RBI that year is still the all-time mark.

Unsurprisingly, Bench took home MVP honors, with 22 of 24 first-place votes. However, the Reds lost the World Series in five games to the Orioles. Two years later, history will repeat itself, with Bench winning the National League MVP again in 1972. This time around, he got 11 votes for the top spot after hitting .270 with 40 league-leading home runs, while Cincinnati won the NL West by 101??2 Games. But again, they couldn’t make it in the playoffs, despite taking Oakland to seven World Series games. After the season, Bench underwent lung surgery, which may have undermined his power, just as the receiver was entering his prime. While perhaps his most impressive feat was his ability to hold SEVEN baseballs in one hand:

But he continued to be immensely productive. Over the seven seasons from 1969 to 1975, Bench racked up a total of 45.5 bWAR, trailing only Joe Morgan in the majors. The last of those years saw the Reds finally put it all together, with Bench securing his first ring in a 1975 World Series, some still considered the best of all time. Although Johnny had a shoulder problem the following year, he got through it when the Reds needed him most. In the 1976 World Series against the Yankees, Bench was named MVP, going 8-to-15 with two homers and six RBIs. Cincinnati swept New York City, scoring them 22-8. No National League team since then has won back-to-back titles.

There would be five more All-Star appearances, a Golden Glove, and three more MVP results mentions for Bench, as he continued to be a valuable player for the rest of the decade. In the ’70s he averaged 144 games a year which is remarkable for a wide receiver, hit more home runs (290) than all but Willie Stargell and Reggie Jackson, scored more points than anyone (1013) and was worth 5.9 bWAR per season. . Hell, he even had an average of six SBs a year. Inevitably, time caught up with Bench in the 1980s as playing time dwindled. But even in his final season of 1983, he still appeared 110 times, albeit mostly in the corners of the infield. On September 17, proclaimed “Johnny Bench Night” by the Reds, he hit his 389th and final home run.

His number was quickly retired by the Reds, and there is now a Bench statue at the Great American Ball Park, unveiled in 2011. It was absolutely no surprise when he became a Hall of Famer in the first round in 1989, being appointed at 96%. of the votes cast. That year, he also became the first individual baseball player to appear on a Wheaties box. His reputation did not diminish in the years following his retirement. Bench was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team as the top ballot catcher, and according to SABR, “he remains the gold standard for baseball catchers of all times.”

Below is a 2000 documentary on Bench, initially screened as part of ESPN Sports century series, which is certainly a recommended watch.

Next up: First Base, where candidates could perhaps include Lou Gehrig, Cap Anson, Jimmie Foxx and Jeff Bagwell. But not Albert Pujols. 🙂

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