The selection for #5 may be the easiest of them all, as the Reds are fortunate enough to call the greatest catcher of all-time their own. Johnny Bench was arguably not only the best ever defensively; he set the bar offensively, winning two-MVP awards, an award that usually only measures offensive achievement.
His list of accomplishments is as long as any other man who played the game for a living with 14 All-Star appearances, 10 Gold Gloves, two MVP’s, two World Series titles, a World Series MVP and even Rookie of the Year. Even with all that to his name, his finest compliment would be his induction into Cooperstown where his name will forever be synonymous with the greatest who played the game.
Over his 17-year career that only took place in the Queen City, Bench revolutionized the catching position. He twice clobbered over 40 homeruns, leading the league both years, and three times led the league in RBI’s. The games most dominant offensive catcher did this all without the benefit of Great American Ball Park, which came along decades too late for a man that surely would have added to his already legendary home run total had he been aided by the jet stream and shallow dimensions of the Reds current home.
With the establishment of catcher protection for this upcoming season and the foreseeable future, one can only imagine the longevity of Bench’s career had he had the protection that today’s catchers are now granted. Catchers were warriors during the time Bench played, being expected to catch every type of pitcher, day after day, and especially a day game after a night game. Had Bench been subjected to 21st century managerial treatment, his damaged body would have been much more rested and healthy, only increasing his already gaudy offensive statistics.
Among many other things that have changed, would be the salary increases for players based on their performance. Almost undoubtedly, Bench would be a 100 million dollar asset to any organization, and potentially, out of the Reds budget. Thankfully, the greatest backstop to ever clip on a pair of catchers equipment was devoutly faithful to the Queen City and its prized organization.
It would be an injustice to not mention the story of Willard Hershberger when the #5 is discussed. To many, it is an unknown story, as Hershberger was simply the backup catcher to another great Reds catcher, Ernie Lombardi. From 1938-1940, the man nicknamed “Hershie” was the alternate catcher whenever Lombardi needed a day off. His father had unfortunately chose to end his life and it had a profound effect on the mindset of Hershberger during his tenure with the Reds.
After suffering through a slump that lasted from the end of July into August during the summer of 1940, Hershberger had reached his breaking point. After missing batting practice, a hotel room attendant opened his room and found him dead at his own hand. The remainder of the season was dedicated in his honor, and ended with the club winning their second World Championship.
Bench will forever be immortalized not only in the city of Cincinnati, but in history books and small towns all around the nation. The young boy from Oklahoma who dreamed of being a big leaguer not only fulfilled his dreams; he surpassed anything he ever could have imagined. When the #5 is mentioned anywhere in Reds Country, images of Johnny Bench appear and fans go back to a time when the Reds were baseball royalty.