Bench wins second NL MVP

Written by: Craig Muder

Just five full seasons into his big league career, Johnny Bench had a Rookie of the Year Award, five Gold Glove Awards and two National League MVPs.

So before he even turned 30 years old, Bench already had his sights set on Cooperstown.

“First, I just wanted to be a pro ball player,” Bench told Bob Hertzel of the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Then a major leaguer. Then the best catcher in the game. Last, it’s got to be the Hall of Fame. That’s the ultimate goal.”

On Nov. 22, 1972, Bench took a major step toward that goal when he was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player for the second time in three seasons. Bench, who would turn 25 a little more than two weeks later, was coming off a season where he hit 40 home runs and drove in 125 runs – both tops in the NL – while drawing a career-best 100 walks and leading the Reds to the NL pennant.

To reach the World Series, the Reds needed heroics from Bench in the National League Championship Series when they trailed the Pirates 3-2 heading to the bottom of the ninth inning of the decisive Game 5. Bench’s leadoff home run off Dave Giusti tied the score and set the stage for a rally that ended when George Foster scored on a wild pitch from the Pirates’ Bob Moose.

“The thrills – so many of them,” Bench said. “The MVP Award, twice. It’s something when you look back and think about it. Then the home run in the ninth inning of the playoffs to tie the game.”

In the World Series, the Oakland Athletics defeated the Reds 4-games-to-3 in what many consider one of the greatest Fall Classics in history. The Series featured six one-run games as A’s manager Dick Williams – committed to a strategy of not letting Bench beat his team – walked the Reds catcher five times.

But the best days for the Reds were yet to come, as Bench was the cornerstone of the Cincinnati dynasty that won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976. The durable Bench averaged more than 136 games behind the plate for the first 10 seasons of his career – and the Reds won at least 89 games in eight of those years, finishing in first place in the National League West five times.

When he retired following the 1983 campaign Bench had tallied 2,048 hits, 389 home runs, 10 Gold Glove Awards and 14 All-Star Game selections in 17 seasons.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

To the top
To the top