Best Cincinnati Reds Ever: Johnny Bench v. Pedro Borbon


First Round Matchup No. 1 Johnny Bench v. No. 16 Pedro Borbon


A 14-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glove winner, two-time Most Valuable Player and two-time World Series champion, Johnny Bench may not just be the best Cincinnati Reds player ever, he may be the best catcher in the history of baseball. And Time magazine proclaimed him as such in 1972.

A second round pick of the Reds in 1965, Bench struggled offensively early on in his career, but had players and scouts raving about his defense. Two years later — as a 19 year old — Bench made his debut in a Reds uniform and quickly became a cog in the Big Red Machine. As a 20-year-old the following season, Bench won the Rookie of the Year award, while earning his first trip to the All-Star Game and his first Gold Glove. And for good measure, he received a handful of MVP votes — again as a 20-year-old.

Two years later and Bench snagged his first of two MVP awards, becoming the youngest player to earn the award in the National League. All he did was lead the league in home runs (45) and RBIs (148) while hitting .293 with 34 doubles. Two years later Bench claimed his second MVP and led the league once more in HRs and RBIs.

Bench won back-to-back World Series championships in 1975 and 76, including the World Series MVP in the latter by hitting .533 with 2 HR in a four-game sweep of the Yankees.

He ended his 17-year career — all with Cincinnati — with a final All-Star appearance, the second most all-time for a catcher behind just Yogi Berra. His 10 Gold Gloves, all in consecutive years (1968-77), are also second most in MLB history to Ivan Rodriguez.

Bench eclipsed 20 HR in a season 11 times, 30 HR four times and knocked in over 100 runs six times.

Bench was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot receiving 96.42 percent of the votes. His No. 5 jersey has been retired by the Reds, has been elected to the Reds Hall of Fame, was selected to the All-Century team in 1999, and, by a panel of 36 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, was named to the all-time team at catcher edging out fellow catcher Yogi Berra. ESPN, Sporting News and other outlets have regarded him as the best catcher ever.

The Little General is a big part of Reds history in every way you choose to frame it and may be their best player ever. 

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Signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as an amateur free agent in 1964, Borbon was making his MLB debut with the California Angels five years later. The following season he debuted with the Reds and spent the next decade (1970-79) with them. His career was highlighted by an eight-year stretch in which — as a reliever — he pitched at least 90 innings including six of those years where he eclipsed 100. He had a career K/9 of just 3.5, but his ERA, across his six-year 100+ inning stretch, never topped 3.35. This included a 1973 season when Borbon pitched in 80 games (121 innings), had a 2.16 ERA, won 11 games and had 14 saves. He added three other seasons of double-digit saves including a career-best 18 in 1977.

Borbon carried his success into the postseason. In 20 career playoff games, he sported a 2.42 ERA with three saves and an impressive 0.962 WHIP — and that included two intentional walks. He was possibly the most important, and certainly most reliable bullpen arm for the Reds in the ’70s, and no matter the scenario, you always knew what Borbon was going to give you. He wasn’t looking to break records, but he was looking to win baseball games and he was an integral part of a handful of Reds teams that did so including back-to-back World Series championship teams in 1975 and 76.

Borbon was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 2010 and continued to support the Reds at myriad occasions until his death in 2012.

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