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Bench “Marks”

Johnny BenchJohnny was named to the NL All-Star team fourteen times, played in every game from 1968 to 1975, and hit .409 with 3 home runs. He set a major league record for home runs by a catcher (327 plus 62 playing elsewhere), later broken by Carlton Fisk; won two home run crowns; led the league in RBI three times; and was chosen MVP twice.

While Johnny is remembered most for his offense, he may have had his greatest impact behind the bat. He was the first receiver to use a protective helmet in the field, popularized catching onehanded, kept his throwing hand behind his back to protect it from foul tips, and said his father “taught me to throw 254 feet-twice the distance to second base-from a crouch.” Not known for keeping his counsel, Johnny once said flatly, “I can throw out any runner alive,” and brashly predicted that he would be the first catcher to be named Rookie of the Year. He did just that in 1968, caught 154 games, a rookie record, and won the first of ten straight Gold Gloves. Johnny hit 45 homers and was chosen MVP for the first time in 1970, the year Bob Hunter, a Los Angeles sportswriter, first called Cincinnati “the Big Red Machine.”

That year, the Reds ran into Brooks Robinson and, the second time Johnny was named MVP, in 1972, the Big Red Machine was derailed by the Oakland A’s Mustache Gang. When the Reds and Yanks squared off in 1976, the press played up the confrontation between Johnny and the Yankees’ catcher and captain, Thurman Munson. Johnny caught Mickey Rivers stealing in Game One, New York’s only attempted theft in the Series, got two hits in each of the first three games, and hit two home runs in Game Four to lead the Reds to their first World Series sweep. Munson hit .529 with 2 RBI; Johnny hit .533 and knocked in 6 runs. Munson gave Johnny his due, “The man deserves all the credit in the world.” Johnny made Williams’ prediction come true in 1989, the first year he was eligible.

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