Johnny Bench

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Johnny Bench : biography

December 7, 1947 –

Major League career statistics

Bench had 2048 hits for a .267 career batting average with 389 home runs and 1,376 RBI during his 17-year Major League career, all spent with the Reds. He retired as the career home run leader for catchers, a record which stood until surpassed by Carlton Fisk and the current record holder, Mike Piazza. Bench still holds the Major League record for the most grand slam home runs by a catcher, with 10. In his career, Bench earned 10 Gold Gloves, was named to the National League All-Star team 14 times, and won two Most Valuable Player Awards. He led the National League three times in caught stealing percentage and ended his career with a .991 fielding percentage. Bench also won such awards as the Lou Gehrig Award (), the Babe Ruth Award (), and the Hutch Award ().

Bench popularized the hinged catcher’s mitt, first introduced by Randy Hundley of the Chicago Cubs. He began using the mitt after a stint on the disabled list in 1966 for a thumb injury on his throwing hand. The mitt allowed Bench to tuck his throwing arm safely to the side when receiving the pitch. By the turn of the decade, the hinged mitt became standard catchers’ equipment. Having huge hands (a famous photograph features him holding seven baseballs in his right hand), Bench also tended to block breaking balls in the dirt by scooping them with one hand instead of the more common and fundamentally proper way: dropping to both knees and blocking the ball using the chest protector to keep the ball in front.

Major League Baseball career

1960s

Bench played baseball and basketball and was class valedictorian at Binger High School in Binger, Oklahoma. He is one-eighth Native American (Choctaw). His father told him that the fastest route to becoming a major leaguer was as a catcher. Bench was drafted 36th overall by the Cincinnati Reds in the second round of the 1965 amateur draft, playing for the minor-league Buffalo Bisons in the 1966 and 1967 seasons before being called up to the Reds in August 1967. He hit only .163, but impressed many with his defense and strong throwing arm. Among them: Hall of Famer Ted Williams. Williams signed a baseball for him which predicted that the young catcher would be "A Hall of Famer for sure!"http://www.sportsmemorabilia.com/articles/johnny-bench-memorabilia-buying-guide Williams’ prediction eventually became fact with Johnny Bench’s election to the Hall of Fame in .

During a spring training game in 1968, Bench was catching the eight-year veteran right-hander Jim Maloney. Once a noted hard thrower, injuries had reduced Maloney’s fastball’s speed dramatically by this time. However, Maloney insisted on repeatedly "shaking off" his younger catcher and throwing the fastball instead of the breaking balls Bench called for. An exasperated Bench bluntly told Maloney, "Your fastball’s not popping". Maloney replied with an epithet. To prove to Maloney that his fastball wasn’t effective anymore, Bench called for a fastball, and after Maloney released the ball, Bench dropped his catcher’s mitt and comfortably caught the fastball barehanded.http://www.baseball-almanac.com/articles/fastest-pitcher-in-baseball.shtml Bench was the Reds’ catcher on April 30, 1969 when Maloney pitched a no hitter against the Houston Astros.

Bench won the National League Rookie of the Year Award, batting .275 with 15 home runs and 82 RBIs, marking the first time the award had been won by a catcher. He also won the 1968 National League Gold Glove Award for catchers, marking the first time the award had been won by a rookie. His 102 assists in 1968 marked the first time in 23 years that a catcher had more than 100 assists in a season.

1970s

was Bench's finest statistical season; he became the youngest man (22) to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award, hit .293, led the National League with 45 home runs and a franchise-record 148 Runs batted in, and helped the Reds win the National League West Division. The Reds swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1970 National League Championship Series, but lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.