August 28, 1967: On this day in Reds history, 19-year-old catcher Johnny Bench makes his major league debut and goes 0-3, striking out twice, before being lifted for pinch hitter with runner in scoring position in the ninth inning. The Reds lose to the Philadelphia Phillies, 3-2, at home at Crosley Field.
The Reds scored first in the game when Tommy Harper doubled to lead off the bottom of the Reds first inning and Vada Pinson singled him home. The Phillies tied it in the second on a sacrifice fly and then took a two-run lead in the sixth on a Johnny Callison home run and a balk by Reds starter Gerry Arrigo. The Reds pulled within one in the bottom of the sixth when Pete Rose scored on a Tony Perez ground out. Lee May, who had doubled, was stranded at third when Tommy Helms fouled out and Bench struck out to end the inning.
Bench was removed from the game in the bottom of the ninth. Facing reliever Turk Farrell, Helms opened the ninth with a single. Infield reserve Chico Ruiz was called on to pinch hit, but flied out to left field. Helms stole second base, but Leo Cardenas also flied to left and pinch hitter Mel Queen grounded out to end the game.
The Phillies did test Bench’s throwing arm in the game. In the top of the second inning, Phillies catcher Gene Oliver singled and advanced to second base on a walk. He stole third base with lefty swinging Bill White at the plate, one of Oliver’s only two steals on the year. Oliver had 24 career stolen bases. The Phillies tested Bench’s legendary arm again in the fourth when centerfielder Don Lock walked to open the inning. One out later, Bench threw him out at second base on a stolen base attempt. Lock eventually stole nine bases in 1967 and was 30-59 in stolen bases for his career.
For the 1967 major league season, Bench played 26 games, batting .163 with one home run and six rbi in 93 plate appearances (his first home run came off the Braves Jim Britton on September 20, 1967). He had 16 assists in those 26 games and threw out 5 of the 10 baserunners who attempted to steal with him behind the plate. He won the starting job in 1968 and was named Rookie of the Year after batting .275 with 15 home runs and 82 rbi.
Bench was the Reds second amateur draft pick ever, having been picked in the second round of baseball’s initial draft in 1965. A catcher out from Binger, Oklahoma (Anadarko High School), Bench was selected after third baseman Bernie Carbo and the 36th overall pick in the draft. Rick Monday, later of the A’s, Cubs, and Dodgers, was the first pick ever in the amateur draft. Hal McRae was also selected by the Reds in the 1965 draft, a shortstop in the fifth round. Carbo and McRae were both later switched to the outfield.
Bench was the ninth catcher picked in the draft. Other catchers selected ahead of him were Ray Fosse, Gene Lamont, and Ken Plesha (all in the first round). Second round catcher selections were Randy Kohn, Ken Rudolph, Don Johnson, Richard Horton, and then Bench. Plesha, Kohn, Johnson, nor Horton ever made the majors; Lamont and Rudolph were predominantly reserves; Fosse became an all-star; Bench became a Hall of Famer.
Bench finished the 1965 season in A Ball at Tampa, batting .248 with two home runs in 68 games. He played A Ball again in 1966, for Peninsula, and batted .294 with 22 home runs as an 18-year-old. At age 19, he was moved to AAA in 1967 at Buffalo and hit .259 with 23 home runs. Bench had 70 assists in 83 games from behind the plate at AAA in 1967. He was named Minor League Player of the Year for his 1967 performance.
Bench played 17 major league seasons, batting .267 with 389 home runs and 1376 rbi. He holds the Reds career records in home runs and rbi. He was named Most Valuable Player for both the 1970 and 1972 seasons, when he was only 22 and 24 years old, respectively. He won ten consecutive Gold Glove awards from 1968-77. He was named to the Hall of Fame in 1989, receiving votes on 431 of 447 ballots.