Johnny Bench | 20 Facts About The Legendary Catcher

Johnny Bench

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Johnny Bench | 20 Facts About The Legendary Catcher

One of the best catchers to ever play the game of baseball is Johnny Bench.

The legendary catcher spent his entire big league career wearing #5 with the Cincinnati Reds and he went on to enter the Hall of Fame in 1989 on the first ballot. 

Since this website is dedicated to catchers, we wanted to dig in and write an article on one of the best ever to wear catcher’s gear. 

Read on to learn more about many of the key facts and figures of #5’s remarkable career. 

Awards and Records

What Records did Johnny Bench Break in Baseball?

Our detailed article on catchers statistics shows that Bench still holds at least four key records among catchers. 

The first significant active record is having the most RBIs in a season by a catcher, which Bench achieved in 1970 with 148 RBIs. 

He also has the record for the highest JAWS of any catcher (61.2), the highest career bWAR among catchers (75.2) and the highest single-season bWAR by a catcher (8.6 in 1972), which is actually a tie with Gary Carter's 1982 bWAR.

Bench also held two important records that have since been broken. He previously held the record for most career home runs by a catcher (since broken by Mike Piazza) and the most home runs by a catcher in a season (since broken by Salvador Perez).

How Many MVPs Did he Win?

As detailed in our article on catchers that won an MVP, Bench won two National League (NL) MVP awards.

He won his first in 1970 and his second in 1972. Bench earned MVP votes in eight other seasons.

He is also one of the rare catchers to win a World Series MVP, which happened in 1976.

Johnny Bench in the 1976 World Series against the New York Yankees

During the 1976 World Series at Yankee Stadium

Did he ever Win a Batting Title?

No, he never won a batting title.

His highest batting average in a season where he had 200 or more at bats occurred in both 1969 and 1970, where he hit .293 both years.

Offense

How Many Seasons did he Hit 30+ Home Runs?

Bench hit 30 or more home runs in four seasons.

In 1970 he hit 45 homers, in '72 he hit 40, in '74 he hit 33, and in 1977 he hit 31 home runs.

How Many 100+ RBI Seasons did he Have?

He had six MLB seasons with more than 100 RBIs in a season. 

The most RBIs he had in a single season was 148 in 1970, which led the league. He also led the league in RBIs in 1972 and 1974.

Number 5 is one of the few catchers over his career to accumulate more than 1,000 RBIs.

What was his Career OPS?

Bench had a career OPS of .817. 

That metric combines his .342 lifetime on-base percentage with his .476 slugging percentage.

What WAR Did He Have?

Bench had a 74.8 fWAR and a 75.1 bWAR - a record among catchers. This is the highest WAR of any catcher in Cincinnati Reds’ history.

If you aren't already aware, fWAR and bWAR are two different ways of calculating the statistic known as Wins Above Replacement. Fangraphs publishes fWAR and Baseball Reference publishes bWAR.

What Size Bat did he Use?

Bench never used only one specific size of bat over the course of his career. On the contrary, he used a variety of different sizes.

For example, early in his career he consistently used a 35.5 inch bat that weighed between 32 to 33 ounces.

During the middle part of his MLB tenure, he used a 35.25 to 35.5 inch bat weighing between 30.5 to 32.5 ounces.

Near the end of his career, he often used bats measuring 34.5 inches and weighing between 31 to 32 ounces.

These specific sizes are verified through numerous auction listings of authentic bats used by Johnny between 1968 and 1980.

Defense

How Many Games did he Catch in 1970?

He caught in 139 games during his MVP winning season in 1970. Bench started behind the plate in 130 of those games.

During the 1972 season (source: Getty Images)

How Many No Hitters did he Catch?

Bench caught one no hitter during his career.

It happened on April 30, 1969 against the Houston Astros. Fireballer Jim Maloney threw nine innings of no hit ball for the Reds, striking out 13 and walking five. Bench went 1 for 3 with a walk to help lead the Reds to a 10 - 0 victory.

Nine years later, Hall of Famer Tom Seaver pitched a no hitter for the Reds. However, backup catcher Don Werner caught the game because Bench was on the disabled list at that time.

How Many Runners did he Throw Out?

Johnny threw out approximately 469 base runners attempting to steal during his big league career.

What Percentage of Runners did he Throw Out?

During his career, Bench gunned down an average of 43% of runners attempting to steal on him. This was eight percentage points better than the MLB average during the same period of time.

johnny bench throwing

How Many Passed Balls did he Have in his Career?

Over the course of his 17 year MLB career, Bench had a total of 94 passed balls - an average of 5.5 per season.

The most he ever had in a season was 18 in 1968 and the least he had was in 1975. That year he had no passed balls in over 1,000 innings played behind the plate.

Did he ever Play Outfield?

Yes, he actually played a significant number of games in the outfield. 

Specifically, Bench played all three positions in the outfield across 111 MLB games and 798.1 innings. This time represents 5% of all MLB games he played in.

What was his Fielding Percentage as a Catcher?

Johnny's lifetime fielding percentage while playing behind the plate was .990, which was better than average during this period of time.

Other Facts

How Many Baseballs Could he Hold in One Hand?

Johnny Bench's hands were huge. He famously demonstrated this on several occasions by holding seven baseballs in one hand.

This metric is also referred to as caught stealing percentage, so another way to say it is that Johnny's CS% was 43%.

What is Considered his Rookie Card and how Much is it Worth?

Johnny Bench's rookie card is the 1968 Topps #247. It's a dual "Rookie Stars" card featuring a young Bench on the left and a pitcher named Ron Tompkins on the right.

If you're interested in getting a graded PSA 10 version of the card, be prepared to shell out $88,000 or more. 

However, there is lots of variability on the price of the card depending on its condition. For example, you can likely pick up the card with a Very Good grading from PSA (such as a 3 or a 4) for less than $200.

1968 Topps #247

How Much did he Make a Year?

On average, Bench made $192,633 per year while he was in the MLB.

His lowest annual salary during his big league playing career was $11,000 and his highest was $400,000 per year.

What was his Nickname?

He actually had three nicknames. The one he is most well known for is the Little General.

Lesser known nicknames he had are the Binger Banger and Hench Ench.

Did he Play in College?

No. Bench was drafted in the 2nd round of the 1965 draft directly out of High School.

The High School he played for was Binger High in Binger, Oklahoma. To this date, he has been the only MLB player out of Binger High School.

Thanks for Reading!

We hope you enjoyed reading this article and that it answered a few questions you may have had.

Please feel free to contact us if you're interested in getting in touch.

 

Sources

  • Baseball Reference
  • Fangraphs
  • National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum
  • PSA
  • Retrosheet