Johnny Bench 1974 #010
by William Szczepanek
This 1974 card of Johnny Bench shows him in the year he caught 160 games and led the league with 129 RBIs. Johnny Bench, simply put, is the greatest catcher in baseball history. Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella and Pudge Rodriguez fans will disagree, but I have seen them all play. Bench was Rookie of the Year in 1968. In 1970 at age 22, he led the Big Red Machine with 45 home runs and franchise record 148 RBIs while catching 158 games for League MVP. He was MVP again in 1972 when his production dropped to 40 home runs and only 125 RBIs. Bench was a 10-time Gold Glover and 14-time All Star. Bench caught 100 or more games for a record-setting 13 consecutive seasons. Bench hit 389 career home runs. In this new age of Sabermetrics Johnny Bench has the highest WAR (Wins Above Replacement for position players) for any catcher in history.
In 1968 during spring training The Little General was catching the veteran Jim Maloney. Injuries had reduced Maloney's speed by this time. However, Maloney repeatedly "shook off" Bench, wanting to throw fastballs instead of curves and sliders. Bench went to the mound and told Maloney, "Your fastball's not popping". Maloney replied rudely, ("You can put your own words here"). Bench then called for a fastball, dropped his catcher's glove and caught the pitch barehanded. On April 30, 1969 Bench would catch Maloney's no hitter against the Houston Astros.
In 1976 bench was the World Series MVP. He led the National League three times in caught stealing percentage and ended his career with a .991 fielding percentage. He popularized the hinged catcher's mitt which he first learned of from Randy Hundley. The mitt allowed him to catch one handed and avoid injury to his throwing hand. Bench ranked Number 16 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players and was the highest ranking catcher.
"I can throw out any man alive."─ Johnny Bench
Ted Williams signed a baseball for Bench which was inscribed "A Hall of Famer for sure!" Williams' prediction eventually became fact with Johnny Bench's election to the Hall of Fame in 1989.
You can check out Bench's statistics at Baseball Reference.com.