Monday, June 30, 2014

Johnny Bench (#95)

Johnny Bench was the catcher on the Topps 1968 All-Rookie Team, and also the 1968 NL Rookie of the Year. This is Bench’s first solo card. He previously appeared on a Reds Rookie Stars card in the 1968 set.

Bench was selected by the Reds in the 2nd round of the 1965 draft (the inaugural “Rick Monday” draft) with the THIRTY-SIXTH overall pick. He was the EIGHTH catcher selected (behind Ray Fosse, Gene Lamont, Ken Rudolph, and 4 other backstops who never made it to the majors).

Johnny played 3 seasons (1965-67) in the minors, hitting 22 homers in ’66 and another 23 in ’67. He made his big-league debut on August 28, 1967 and started 26 of the Reds’ final 32 games. In the off-season, 6-year incumbent starting catcher Johnny Edwards was traded away to clear a path for Bench, and the rest is history.

Bench made his first of 13 consecutive all-star rosters in 1968, and edged out the Mets’ Jerry Koosman by one vote for NL Rookie of the Year. He also won his first of 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards.

In 1970 and 1972, Bench led the NL in home runs (45, 40) and RBI (148, 125), and won the MVP award both seasons. He also led the NL with 129 RBI in 1974.

Johnny played in the NLCS and World Series in ’70, ’72, ’75, and ’76, and in the NLCS in ’73 and ’79. He grabbed the 1976 World Series MVP award after a .533 batting average and 6 RBI in the ’76.

In 1981, Bench was limited to just 52 games, mostly sharing 1st base with Dan Driessen, and only catching in 7 games. The following season he was the team’s regular 3rd baseman, starting 103 games at the hot corner, while only spending one inning behind the plate.

In his final season (1983), Johnny was a bench player (ha ha!), only starting 41 games at 3rd base, 29 at 1st base, and 3 behind the plate. After a 2-year absence, he made the all-star team in his final season, but it was as a symbolic gesture, as his impending retirement was announced prior to the season.

In 1986, Bench's number 5 was retired by the Reds, and he was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989 with 96% of the vote in his first year of eligibility.


Douglas said...

As a hitter, my thought during Bench's early years was how good can this guy get?...Equally significant was Bench was the first catcher who showed me the value of excellent defense...makes me wonder about teams try to convert good hit no field players in the backstop position

Jim from Downingtown said...

I read somewhere that he popularized the use of the hinged catcher's mitt, which allowed for 1-handed catching.

Swoonin' A's said...

I love this pose, fresh-faced Johnny in the old Reds' vesties throwing out his mitt and seeming to say "show me what you got." Which reminds me of this story:

Having Johnny Bench behind the plate was like having another coach on the field, and he always knew how to get his point across.
So says George Diaz of the Cincinnati Post, who recalled a game in 1969 when the Reds sent Jerry Arrigo to the mound against the Dodgers. Arrigo liked his fastball. Bench didn't.
Said Bench: "He was pitching against hitters I knew he couldn't possibly throw it by. I called for a curve and he shook it off. I called a curve one more time and he shook it off. He finally threw a fastball outside."
Bench caught the ball. Bare-handed. The point was made.