Also considered: Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson
The top three players of this decade were all arguably from the Cincinnati Reds, better known as The Big Red Machine. And rightfully so as they played in the National League playoffs six out of the possible ten seasons (remember that only two teams would make it from each league back then). So to split the hairs of Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, and Johnny Bench is no easy task. Their overall team accomplishments were one in the same. But what really made Johnny Bench stand out was his power at the plate, and ability to completely dominate a game behind it.
“I don’t want to embarrass any other catcher by comparing him to Johnny Bench.” -Hall of Fame Manager Sparky Anderson
Like Sparky said, he’s in a class of his own for greatest catcher of all time:
- Ten seasons of 100+ games caught (actually did it for 13 seasons in a row)
- Five seasons of top ten OPS
- Two Home Run titles (hitting 45 and 40)
- Averaged 29 HR a season
- Six 100+ RBI seasons
- Averaged 101 RBI’s a season
- 5.9 WAR average (defense not accurate in past WAR)
- Ten Gold Gloves (!)
- Ten All Star selections
- Two MVP’s
- Two World Series (’76 WS MVP)
(.267/.349/.491, 1,396 H, 290 HR, 1,013 RBI, 792 R)
*These numbers only reflect the seasons between 1970-79*
Those numbers don’t do service to the player that Johnny was. He transformed the position as a whole. He did it all. And he did it all extremely well. Most every record for a catcher, he held it at one point in time. Offensively or defensively. He blazed the trail for the likes of Carlton Fisk, Ivan Rodriguez, and Mike Piazza.
“I think the best defensive catcher of all time, probably Pudge [Ivan] Rodriguez. I think the best offensive catcher of all time, Mike Piazza. But I think the greatest catcher of all time? There’s no question, Johnny Bench.” -Pete Rose
Johnny Bench was the first catcher to catch the ball with one hand in order to protect his throwing hand. He also made the position athletic. He was quick. Cat-like. Bunts were no longer fielded only by the players in the field because he was pouncing on them before runners on base had taken their secondary lead. And he struck fear in all speed demons looking to steal with his unofficial 1.7 second pop times (catch to release time for catchers). Now unfortunately I wasn’t around to see him play, but if even half the stories I’ve ever heard were true, he’s one of the greatest ever play the game.
So Johnny Bench comes in as the eighth selection to my Player of the Decade team. Continue to check back in as I will continue revealing my choice of players each day.