If you are looking for a stellar professional model bat used by the player many people consider to be the greatest catcher of all time, there are a couple of key characteristics to note. From very early on in his career to the end, Johnny Bench was an avid user of pine tar. He was also extremely consistent in how he applied the gripping substance. Well-used Bench gamers often exhibit a heavy coating of pine tar that starts near the base of the handle, extending towards the center brand. This is the most prominent Bench characteristic, and its presence adds a tremendous amount of visual appeal to his bats. From time to time, collectors will encounter a Bench gamer that exhibits scoring along the handle or barrel, but the majority of his bats do not possess this bat modification.
In addition, a large number of Bench gamers do feature his uniform number "5" written on the knob in either red or black marker. The number is usually fairly large and its shape or style varies throughout his career. Bench ordered bats with a number of different finishes and he clearly preferred H&B (endorsement contract) bats during his career after signing with the company in 1965 prior to his Major League debut, but you will occasionally see an Adirondack (block letter). These usually date to Bench’s early playing days.
Bench bats that were manufactured during his time as the field general for "The Big Red Machine" in the 1970s tend to sell for a premium. Keep in mind that some of Bench’s keepsakes, which include game-used items, were damaged or destroyed during a residential fire in the early 1980s.
Johnny Lee Bench (December 7, 1947-) is considered to be amongst the greatest catchers that Major League Baseball has ever seen and was the team leader that led the Cincinnati Reds "Big Red Machine" to back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976. Bench was a smart ballplayer, with an exceptional work ethic, who starred for his high school baseball and basketball teams and was named class valedictorian in his senior year. The Cincinnati Reds then took Johnny with the 36th overall pick of the 1965 MLB Amateur Draft. He spent two seasons with the Buffalo Bisons before getting the call-up to the big leagues. In 1968, Bench hit .275 with 15 home runs and 82 RBI to win the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award and his first All-Star selection while also posting a .991 fielding percentage and a 47% caught stealing percentage to win his first Rawlings Golden Glove. These accolades were early signs of what was to come. He won ten consecutive Gold Gloves behind the plate, second only to Ivan Rodriquez who won 13. In 1969, he set the single season caught stealing percentage record gunning down 57% of the opponent’s would-be base stealers and also posted a .992 fielding percentage. That same year, at the plate, Johnny led the NL with 45 home runs and 148 RBI while batting .293 to win the NL Most Valuable Player Award. Two years later, he would repeat as NL MVP, again leading the National League in home runs (40) and RBI (125) as well as throwing out 56% of the opposition’s base runners – second all-time in single season caught stealing percentage.
Bench led a host of All-Stars and future Hall of Famers like Pete Rose, Dave Concepcion, Ken Griffey, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan and George Foster during the 1970s, helping the Reds reach the World Series four times (1970, 1972, 1975, 1976). The potent, well-oiled offense of Cincinnati earned the moniker "Big Red Machine" and could beat you with power or manufacture runs. The Reds beat the Boston Red Sox four-games-to-three in what is considered one of the greatest World Series in history and then repeated as champions in 1976, sweeping the New York Yankees. The 14-time MLB All-Star was named the 1976 World Series MVP after batting .533 with two homers and six RBI in four games. Johnny Bench was the Cincinnati Reds catcher for 17 seasons (1967-1983) and was formidable hitter at the plate as he posted a .267 career batting average with 389 home runs and 1,376 RBI. Bench also finished his career with a .990 fielding percentage behind the plate, winning 10 Gold Gloves, and gunning down 44% of the would-be base stealers. Johnny Bench popularized the one-handed style of catching that is commonplace in the game today. Johnny Lee Bench was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989. Since retiring, Bench has remained active in sports even attempting a run at the Senior PGA Tour after turning fifty. The Sporting News ranked him #16 on the "100 Greatest Baseball Players" list.