(Born December 7, 1947 ) -- Any list of the best catchers of all-time must include Johnny Bench. In fact, he’s on the short list as the best ever. Yes, he played in Buffalo.
Bench was born in Oklahoma City, and was the valedictorian at Binger High School. He played baseball and basketball there, and his father told him the catcher’s spot was the fastest way to the majors. The Reds picked Bench in the second round in 1965.
Bench broke in with Tampa in Class A, but was in a Bisons uniform a year later ... briefly. He broke his hand in the first inning of his first game on Kids Day at War Memorial Stadium. A year later he hit 23 homers in 98 games and displayed superb defensive skills.
Bench went up to Cincinnati in the middle of the 1967 season, and didn’t look back. He became a starter in 1968, and a superstar (most valuable player of the league in 1970). Bench might have been at his best in 1976, when he led the Reds to a sweep of the Yankees in the World Series.
Bench retired after the 1983 season at the age of 35. Everyone knew he was a Hall of Famer, and he was overwhelmingly elected in 1989.
--- Budd Bailey