Bench was a standout baseball player for Binger High School, in the small western Oklahoma town of Binger, the seat of Caddo County, formerly known as Hoss Spit Flats. His father advised him that the fastest route to the majors was being a catcher. He was drafted in the second round of the 1965 amateur draft and was called up in August, 1967 where he hit just .163, but impressed many with his defensive prowess and strong throwing arm. Among those he impressed during his first taste of big league ball was Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who signed a baseball for him: "A Hall of Famer for sure!"
In addition to being an outstanding fielder, Bench was also a great hitter. In 1970, his finest statistical season, Bench hit .293 with 45 home runs and 148 RBIs. He hit .267 with 389 home runs and 1,376 runs-batted-in during his 17-year Major League career, all spent with the Reds. His career home runs by a catcher record stood until surpassed by the former New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza.
He won the 1968 National League Rookie of the Year Award, batting .275 with 15 home runs and 82 RBIs, and the honors and accomplishments only continued to pile up. In his career, Bench earned 10 Gold Gloves, was the 1970 and 1972 Most Valuable Player and was named to the National League All-Star team 12 times. He also won such awards as the Lou Gehrig Award (1975), the Babe Ruth Award (1976), and the Hutch Award (1981). His most dramatic home run was likely his ninth inning lead-off opposite field home run in the final game of the 1972 NLCS vs. Pittsburgh. The solo shot tied the game 3-3, allowing the Reds to win later in the inning on a wild pitch, 4-3. It was hailed after the game as "one of the great clutch home runs of all time."
Although baseball history is filled with many outstanding catchers, such as Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Gabby Hartnett and Mickey Cochrane, arguably, no player revolutionized the position like Johnny Bench. The catcher's equipment was traditionally called "the tools of ignorance" as many catchers lacked the fielding skills to play elsewhere. But Bench inspired many young ballplayers to become catchers. His use of the hinged catcher's mitt, thought to be a gimmick when he first used it after returning to action following a stint on the disabled list because of a thumb injury on his right hand, became standard equipment soon afterward. The new mitt replaced the traditional rigid trapper-style mitt and allowed Bench to tuck his throwing arm safely to the side.
Located in the Woodland Memorial Park Cemetery, in a small area set aside to honor some nearby vertans, you will find markers for James Castile, Lubie Walker and Walter Mikel closest to the cache. In the famous words of Mork from Ork, ...... well...you know.
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