November 7, 1939: The populace of Cincinnati votes down a bond issue that would have financed a dome stadium large enough to hold 60,000 Reds fans per game. From “Redleg Journal” by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder:
Cincinnati voters reject a $6 million bond issue that would have provided funds for a 60,000-seat stadium for the Reds. The vote was 81,941 against to 46,955 in favor. The bond issue was sponsored by the Build Greater Cincinnati Committee, led by architect Charles Koch. Plans developed by Koch called for the construction of the stadium and a 15,000-seat auditorium to be used for conventions, basketball, hockey, and boxing. The facilities were to be built….on top of a parking garage large enough to hold 15,000 cars. The stadium was to be covered by a glass roof so that it could be utilized year-round.
The timing was right; the Reds had just played in their first World Series in twenty years, but public support wasn’t strong enough to pass the bond. “Redleg Journal” reports that the Astrodome, the world’s first enclosed stadium wasn’t opened until 1965 and that the first stadium built over a parking garage was Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium which opened in 1970.
November 7, 1972: Johnny Bench becomes the first Cincinnati Red to win two Most Valuable Player Awards. Bench won his first MVP in 1970.
It’s really hard to describe just how good Johnny Bench was at this age. He won his first MVP in 1970 at age 22 and now had won two MVPs by age 24 in 1972. Most baseball players don’t reach their “peak” years until ages 25-29, yet Bench had been named the best player in the National League twice by age 24. We discuss 24-year-old prospects as being the future today at an age when Bench may have already been the most dominant player in baseball and possibly the best catcher to ever play the game. In addition to his two MVP award wins, Bench finished fourth in MVP voting in both 1974 and 1975, and finished 10th in 1973. At baseball-reference.com, there’s a quote from the website that sponsors the Bench page, referring to the Joe Posnanski book “The Machine”:
None today fire the pill or stroke lasers as he did. What it was to be Johnny Bench in 1975, was what it was like to be Muhammad Ali or Tiger Woods at their heights. It defies description. But Joe Posnanski does a pretty fair job of it.
Bench won ten Gold Glove Awards as baseball’s best fielding catcher. In 2007, he was named the catcher on Rawlings All-Time Gold Glove Team. He was selected to 14 all-star teams. He was the 1967 Minor League Player of the Year, the 1968 Rookie of the Year, a two-time NL MVP, the 1976 World Series MVP, and was elected to MLB’s Hall of Fame in 1989 on the first ballot, receiving 96.4 of the vote.
He played his entire 17-year career with the Reds, batting .267 with 389 home runs and 1376 rbi. Playing in four World Series, he hit five home runs with a slugging percentage over .500. In 45 post season games, Bench batted .266 with ten homers. From 1968 through 1978, he never finished worst than fifth in the NL in caught stealing percentage and finished in the top three in seven of those eleven seasons. As Johnny Bench is quoted on baseball-reference.com’s bullpen:
“I can throw out any man alive.” — Johnny Bench
“They talk about the Messiah coming back. I’m not sure he hasn’t returned already in catcher’s clothes.”–Sparky Anderson
“John has a quicker release than Joe Namath.”–Dave Bristol
“I don’t want to embarrass any other catcher by comparing him to Johnny Bench.”–Sparky Anderson
“Every time (Johnny) Bench throws, everybody in baseball drools.” – Harry Dalton
“He’ll (Johnny Bench) come out on the mound and treat me like a two-year old, but so help me, I like it.” – Jim Maloney
“I told him (Pete Rose, Jr.) who to watch. I said if you want to be a catcher, watch Johnny Bench. If you want to be a right-handed power hitter, watch Mike Schmidt. If you just want to be a hitter, watch me.” – Pete Rose
“To Johnny Bench, a Hall of Famer for sure.”–Ted Williams on an autograph to Bench in Bench’s second season.
“That isn’t an arm, that’s a rifle.”–Gene Tenace on watching Bench throw to second.
“Bench was the best of the pure catchers….Bench was spectacular, of good size but somehow wiry, quick, active, confident, and blessed with a great arm.”–Bill James
Bench started slowly in 1972 with only eight rbi and a .209 batting average by the end of April. That soon changed as he ended up leading the league with 40 home runs and 125 rbi while batting .270. Comparatively speaking, 1972 was a better season than Bench’s 1970 MVP season which had gaudier numbers (.293, 45 homers, 148 rbi). Bench’s 1972 OPS+ was 166, while his 1970 OPS+ was 141. Bench led the league in rbi again in 1974 (.280, 33 homers, 129 rbi) with a league leading 315 total bases and a 143 OPS+.
The toll of catching wore on Bench. He ALWAYS hit; in his worst season as a hitter his OPS+ was 98 in 1982, his next to last season at age 34 (.258/13/38), but he only played more than 120 games one season after age 29, and that total was 130. In his last six seasons, he averaged 108 games (2/3 of a season), 17 homers, and 56 rbi (118 OPS+). In his first ten full seasons, he averaged 149 games per season, 29 homers, 103 rbi, and a 131 OPS+. He was arguably the greatest catcher that ever played the game and he played the game for the Cincinnati Reds.