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Johnny's the Benchmark for catchers

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Bench marks
By Nick Acocella
Special to

Signature Game
Oct. 21, 1976 - In his ninth full season in the majors, Johnny Bench had a horrendous year. The 28-year-old Cincinnati Reds catcher batted only .234 with 16 homers and 74 RBI and was dropped to seventh in the batting order.

But in the World Series against the New York Yankees, Bench came up huge, especially in Game 4 at Yankee Stadium. For starters, his two-run homer off Ed Figueroa put the Reds ahead 3-1 in the fourth. Then, with the score 3-2 in the ninth, Bench homered again, a three-run drive against reliever Dick Tidrow.

With their 7-2 victory, the Reds completed their sweep to become the first National League team to win back-to-back world championships since the New York Giants of 1921-22. They also were the first team to go through a league championship series and a World Series without a defeat.

With a .533 average (8-for-15), six RBI and four runs, Bench was named the Series MVP. His manager, Sparky Anderson, created a mini-controversy when he said that Yankees catcher Thurman Munson didn't belong in the same ballpark as Bench.

Odds 'n' Ends

  • When Bench was returning from a baseball game as a senior at Binger High School in 1965, the bus crashed and two teammates died.

  • Bench's 40 doubles as a rookie in 1968 is a National League record for catchers. Terry Kennedy tied the mark in 1982.

  • Despite winning the Gold Glove as a rookie in 1968, Bench led the NL in passed balls with 18. By 1975, however, he had improved to the point where he tied a major league record by not allowing a single passed ball.

  • Bench's other league-leading defensive totals were 16 double plays in 1974; and 651 putouts, 713 total chances, and a .997 fielding percentage in 1976.

  • In 1970, Bench had 36 home runs before August 1 to tie a NL record.

  • Bench hit three homers in a game three times - on July 26, 1970; May 7, 1973; and May 29, 1980.

  • In 1972, he hit homers in all 12 NL parks.

  • That season, Bench had the hottest streak of his career, hitting seven homers in five games between May 30 and June 3.

  • Bench's most embarrassing moment came in Game 3 of the 1972 World Series. Oakland manager Dick Williams kept up a charade of instructions to walk Bench in favor of facing on-deck hitter Tony Perez and while Bench stood mesmerized, reliever Rollie Fingers snuck an unexpected third strike past the surprised Bench.

  • During the Series, Bench made headlines by taking Kathy Finley, daughter of Oakland A's owner Charley, to a basketball game.

  • When Bench hit a grand slam in the second game of a doubleheader on Sept. 16, 1974, he helped set one of baseball's more interesting records. It was the third grand slam of the day; teammate Cesar Geronimo and Atlanta's Darrell Evans hit slams in the opener.

  • Bench shares NL records for most years leading the league in sacrifice flies (3) and most grand slams in one month (two in May 1975).

  • Named to 14 All-Star teams in his 17 years, Bench hit .357 with three homers in 12 appearances.

  • In his career, Bench appeared in 1,742 games as a catcher, 195 as a third baseman, 145 as a first baseman and 111 in the outfield.

  • He stole 68 bases, with a high of 13 in 1976.

  • Bench struck out more than 100 times just twice (102 in 1970 and 108 in 1975) and walked 100 times once (exactly 100 in 1972).

  • The University of Cincinnati baseball field is named after Bench.

  • An outspoken opponent of Pete Rose's admission to the Hall of Fame, Bench quit his sports-radio talk job in July 2000 after his on-air partner, Marty Brennaman, suggested that Rose be in the Hall. Brennaman, the Reds' play-by-play announcer who was the recipient of the Ford Frick Award, made his comments at his Cooperstown induction.

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