Generally considered the best catcher of all time - especially by those who have never heard of Josh Gibson or Mickey Cochrane, and who think that Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Piazza are too young for that honor. Bench was a two-time MVP and key component of the Big Red Machine. He was the usual cleanup hitter for the Reds team that won 6 pennants in 8 years (and 2 World championships) between 1970 and 1977. He led the league twice in home runs, in each of his 2 MVP seasons (1970 and 1972) and 3 times in RBIs. He set the standard for catchers with 389 career home runs and Gold Gloves (10).
That said, Bench never led the league in either on-base average or slugging percentage, and he never created the most runs in any single season. While he controlled the game as a catcher, throwing out runners, calling pitches and blocking the plate as well as anyone the game has ever seen, he is probably overrated as a hitter. Mickey Cochrane and Yogi Berra were better pure hitters and team leaders; Roy Campanella was better in his peak years; Berra and Campy each won more MVP awards; and if Mike Piazza stays anywhere close to his career pace he will soon eclipse all of Bench's career marks. Also, Bench had the benefit of hitting behind Pete Rose and Joe Morgan, and ahead of George Foster.
Still, as a two-way player, maybe only Willie Mays can match Bench.
"He protected home plate like a Mormon girl on her prom night."
Aman Verjee, on Johnny Bench
"I've seldom seen a horny player walk into a bar and not let out exactly what he did for a living."
"I can throw out any man alive."
"I don't want to embarrass any other catcher by comparing him with Johnny Bench."
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