Johnny was told by his father at a young age that catching was the surest way to the major leagues. From a rural town in Oklahoma, this valedictorian of Binger High School and All State Basketball player would go on to be considered “Baseball’s Greatest Catcher”, leading the Cincinnati Reds to back-to-back World Series Championships.
As a member of the Big Red Machine through the 1970’s, Bench revolutionized the catching position in many ways and set the standard for future generations of backstops by earning 10 consecutive Gold Gloves. A strong arm and durable build made him a formidable defender behind the plate, but his at bats made him that much more dangerous as he would collect 389 home runs and 1,376 RBIs, which both stand as franchise records in Cincinnati.
Bench retired in 1983, leaving behind one of the most prolific careers ever established by a catcher, setting a course for Cooperstown where he would be inducted on his first ballot to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I had no idea that the Hall of Fame was waiting for me. I don't think that any youngster ever dreams of that or ever thinks that's possible. You might think of All Star games and World Series but certainly you wouldn't think of the Hall of Fame because that is a place for the fantasies.”
Success did not end on the field, as he would establish numerous business ventures, charitable initiatives and entertainment appearances, all of which he continues to pursue today. He now resides in Southern Florida with his two sons Justin and Josh, but always takes time to support organizations such as Hope for the Warriors, USA Cares, Bobby Nichols Foundation and more.
In the heart of Grapefruit League Spring Training, he remains involved in the game visiting many organizations and mentoring the next catchers of our national pastime. Each year he makes an effort to attend both the Reds and National Hall of Fame inductions, serving as a continued ambassador of the game.
Minor League Player of the Year, 1967
At the age of 19, Johnny recorded 70 assists as a catcher, and led the Buffalo Bisons with 23 home runs and 68 RBIs during his 98 stint with the team.
This team featured players such as long time Royal Hal McRae and player-manager Don Zimmer. One year earlier he was room mates with fellow Peninsula Grays team mate and future 1975 World Series competitor Bernie Carbo.
Johnny would later be called up to make his major league debut on August 28, 1967.
N.L Rookie of the Year, 1968
The first catcher to ever earn such honors, Johnny caught 154 games in his first full season and made his defensive dominance known early with a .991 Fielding Percentage next to 102 assists. He would also finish 3rd on the team in HRs behind "Big Bopper" Lee May and fellow Hall of Famer Tony Perez, all of whom drove in 80+ RBIs.
This season would be the first of Johnny consecutive streaks earning 10 Gold Gloves and 13 All Star Game nominations. Known as the "The Little General", Johnny was a part added to a Machine being built in Cincinnati by general manager Bob Howsam.
1970 and 1972 National League MVP
Following two seasons leading the league in HRs, RBIS and sacrifice flies, while catching 100+ games, Bench joined catching legend Roy Campanella as the only pair of backstops to win multiple Most Valuable Player awards.
During both of these season, the Cincinnati Reds would make it to the World Series under new Manager, Sparky Anderson. The Reds was bested in each championship by Earl Weaver's Orioles and Dick Williams' Athletics, these 3 teams were all dynasties in the making under Hall of Fame managers, and people began to doubt if the Reds were as good as people said.
THE BIG RED MACHINE
Cincinnati Reds 4
Boston Red Sox 3
Stats: 5 R, 6 H, 2DBL, HR, 4 RBI
Cincinnati Reds 4
New York Yankees 0
Stats: 4 R, 8 H, 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 6 RBI
WORLD SERIES MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Lou Gehrig Award, 1975
This award is presented annually to the Major League baseball player who both on and off the field best exemplifies the character of Lou Gehrig.
Babe Ruth Award, 1976
The World Series Most Valuable Player Award was originally given by the editors of Sport Magazine and started in 1955. The award is now voted on during the final game of the World Series by a committee of reporters and officials in attendance.
The Hutch Award, 1981
The Hutch Award, ranked as one of the top annual awards given to a Major League Baseball player, is nominated by each MLB team that exemplifies the fighting spirit of the legendary leader Fred Hutchinson.