To Johnny, A Hall of Famer For Sure.
- Inscription Ted Williams wrote on a baseball he signed for Bench during spring training 1969, one year after Bench's Rookie of the Year season in 1968
In the debate over the greatest catchers in baseball history, Johnny Bench is inevitably at or near the top of the list. So complete a player was Bench that his longtime manager Sparky Anderson once chided a sportswriter for comparing another catcher to Bench by saying, "I don't want to embarrass any other catcher by comparing him to Johnny Bench."
Behind the plate, Bench redefined the catching position, setting a standard by which all catchers who followed him have attempted in vain to meet. Overshadowed by the glow of Bench's defensive achievements are his staggering a accomplishments as a hitter. The physical demands of the catching position have long compromised catchers' abilities to excel at the plate since the game's very beginning. Of the select few catchers who have overcome the physical toll their position exacts on them to become elite hitters, few have approached Bench's level.
In a career that found Bench catching 100 or more games in a staggering 13 consecutive seasons, he led the National League in home runs twice and RBI three times. In five seasons in the 1970s, Bench had one of the ten best OPS percentages in the league. He retired as the most prolific home run-hitting catcher in baseball history, a record that was eventually surpassed by Carlton Fisk and current record-holder, Mike Piazza.
In Reds history, no player has hit more career home runs in a Cincinnati uniform than Bench's 389 nor has any player driven in more runs than Bench's 1,376. Playing alongside great power hitters and run producers like George Foster, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez on the Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s, Bench managed to lead the club in home runs four times and RBI five times including four consecutive season from 1972 - 1975.
A two-time World Champion, two-time Most Valuable Player, 10-time Gold Glove winner, 14-time All-Star and a Reds and National Baseball Hall of Famer, Bench has been justifiably lauded for a career that embodied excellence in virtually all facets of the game. He was as much of a weapon behind the plate as he was standing astride it with a bat in his hands. Arguably, he was a more complete weapon than any catcher, if not any player, before or since.