Johnny Bench (5) Days Until Cincinnati Reds Report to Spring Training


Last month the Cincinnati Reds signed their young breakout catcher Devin Mesoraco to a four-year contract extension, and he will be one of the first to report to Spring Training when pitchers and catchers make their way to Goodyear, AZ, in just five days.  Two generations ago, the Reds were also blessed with a breakout catcher, one who would revolutionize the position and help leadThe Big Red Machine to World Series glory in the 1970s.  Johnny Bench is Number 5 on our Countdown Team.

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The Reds drafted Bench out of Anadarko High School in Oklahoma in the second round in 1965, and he managed to log 110 professional games that summer at age 17.  In September of 1967, still just 19 years old, Bench made his Major League debut on August 28, 1967, at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.  In that inauspicious debut, Bench struck out twice in three at-bats, but he never looked back.

By the Spring of 1968, Bench was firmly established as Cincinnati’s starting catcher, and his 15 home runs and 82 RBI helped him win National League Rookie of the Year honors. Two years later, as the Reds charged toward their first 1970s pennant, bench hit .293 with 45 homers and 148 RBI, posting a 141 OPS+ and garnering the NL MVP.  A down year in 1971 was followed by another monster season in 1972 (40 HR, 125 RBI, 166 OPS+) that again left the Reds in the World Series and again left Bench as the NL MVP.

From that point, Bench continued to be a major masher, particularly by catcher standards, though he never quite climbed the heights of the early 1970s again.  By the time the Reds were actually winning their championships, in 1975 and 1976, Bench had been supplanted as The Guy in Cincy’s offense by a strong cast that included Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, George Foster and others.  In fact, the 1976 season was one of Bench’s worst at the plate, and he managed just 125 games behind the plate, yet the Reds still won.

Perhaps the early start to his Major League career hastens Bench’s demise, or perhaps it was the wear and tear of all those post-season games that took their toll, but Bench never played in 150 games after 1974, his age-26 season.  His production began to decline as the Seventies waned, and, by the early 1980s, he was relegated mostly to third-base duties thanks to balky hips and a slowing bat.

The Reds bottomed out in 1982, finishing in last place in the NL West with a 61-101 record, and Bench bid adieu after the next season.   He finished his 17-year career with 389 home runs, 1376 RBI, 2048 hits and a slash line of .267/.342/.476.  He was also an eight-time Gold Glove winner and a 14-time All-Star.

For his excellence at the plate, and especially behind it, Johnny Bench was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989, his first year of eligibility.


Next: Billy Hamilton (6) Days Until Cincinnati Reds Report to Spring Training