Johnny Bench : biography
Johnny Lee Bench (born December 7, 1947 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) is a former professional baseball catcher who played in the Major Leagues for the Cincinnati Reds from 1967 to 1983 and is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Bench, a 14-time All-Star selection and a two-time National League Most Valuable Player, was a key member of The Big Red Machine, which won six division titles, four National League pennants, and two World Series championships. ESPN has called him the greatest catcher in baseball history.
Honors and post-career activities
Bench was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, in 1989 alongside Carl Yastrzemski. He was elected in his first year of eligibility, and appeared on 96% of the ballots, the third-highest percentage at that time. Three years earlier, Bench had been inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in and his uniform #5 was retired by the team. He is currently on the Board of Directors for the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.
In , Bench starred as Joe Boyd/Joe Hardy in a Cincinnati stage production of the musical Damn Yankees, which also included Gwen Verdon and Gary Sandy. He also hosted the television series The Baseball Bunch from to . A cast of boys and girls from the Tucson, Arizona, area would learn the game of baseball from Bench and other current and retired greats. The Chicken provided comic relief and former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda appeared as "The Dugout Wizard."
In , Bench ranked Number 16 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players. He was the highest-ranking catcher. Bench was also elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team as the top vote-receiving catcher. As part of the Golden Anniversary of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award, Bench was selected to the All-Time Rawlings Gold Glove Team.
Starting with the college baseball season, the best collegiate catcher annually receives the Johnny Bench Award. Notable winners include Buster Posey of Florida State University, Kelly Shoppach of Baylor University, Ryan Garko of Stanford University, and Kurt Suzuki of Cal State Fullerton.
In , Bench co-wrote the book Catch Every Ball: How to Handle Life’s Pitches with Paul Daugherty, published by Orange Frazer Press. An autobiography published in called Catch You Later was co-authored with William Brashler. Bench has also broadcast games on television and radio, and is an avid golfer, having played in several Champions Tour tournaments.
In a September interview with Heidi Watney of the New England Sports Network, Johnny Bench, who was watching a Cleveland Indians/Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park, did an impression of late Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray after Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis, a native of Cincinnati, made a tough play. While knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was on the mound for the Red Sox, he related a story that then-Reds manager Sparky Anderson told him that he was thinking of trading for knuckleballer Phil Niekro. Bench replied that Anderson had better trade for Niekro’s catcher, too.
In , Bench underwent hip replacement surgery. The years of catching had put severe stress on his natural hip joint, and it had become severely arthritic and gave him constant pain. Bench was fitted with a Stryker ceramic hip and has since become a spokesman for the company. In 2005, recipients of Stryker implants began complaining about pain, difficulty walking, fractures from poorly-fitting implants and squeaking. In a six-page letter, the Food and Drug Administration warned Stryker about the problems. Bench, who says he has experienced some squeaking, quipped, “I don’t care if it plays ‘Dixie’".
On September 17, 2011, the Cincinnati Reds unveiled a statue of Bench at the entrance way of the Reds Hall of Fame at Great American Ball Park. The larger-than-life bronze statue by Tom Tsuchiya, shows Bench in the act of throwing out a base runner. Bench called the unveiling of his statue, "his greatest moment."