As Buster Posey defines himself as the best catcher of his generation, the greatness of Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench becomes more apparent.
Johnny Bench had a rare combination of offensive and defensive skill as a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds. He ranks seventh overall in games caught, but has the offensive and defensive awards to go with his Hall of Fame induction. He was an offensive catcher before it was a fad.
The current catcher with a game most resembling Bench’s skills is Buster Posey of the San Franciso Giants. Posey won the National League MVP in 2012 by leading MLB in hitting and OPS+. He also led the NL in sac flies.
That 2012 season was the 16th best ever batting average season for a catcher at .336. Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins holds the record at .365. If he had stayed behind the plate, he may have been in this conversation.
Bench twice won the NL MVP award. In those two seasons Bench led MLB in home runs, RBIs, and sac flies. He was also on offensive leader boards the two years following his second MVP season.
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Bench has three of the top five RBI seasons ever for a catcher. His 1970, 1972, and 1974 haven’t been replicated by anyone since the before 1960. His 1970 season set the all-time mark.
For all of his offensive records with the Cincinnati Reds, Johnny Bench’s defense is even more impressive.
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Posey has one Gold Glove Award. Bench has ten. He won his in consecutive seasons from 1968 through 1977.
Only one catcher has more Gold Gloves in the history of baseball, Ivan Rodriguez. He has a total of 13 and matched Bench’s 10 consecutive. Pudge wasn’t Bench’s peer, though, offensively.
Like Posey, Pudge won one MVP award. Unlike Posey, Pudge is already retired and in the Hall of Fame. Pudge won’t add anymore to his legacy.
Bench made the All-Star team an amazing 13 times consecutively. During Bench’s last season behind the plate in 1980 was the only time that his caught stealing dropped below 39%. Until that season, base stealers were only successful three out of five times running against Bench.
Of course, as a catcher, Bench was responsible for managing a pitching staff. He took a young staff and made it through the Big Red Machine. Once the Machine had fallen apart, Bench taught the next generation of pitchers.
The Reds have been blessed to have some of the true all time greats play for them. From Pete Rose to Johnny Bench, from Joe Morgan to Tom Seaver, elite players have comprised the Reds. Perhaps none was more elite than the best catcher ever catcher Johnny Bench.