Johnny Bench

Very few catchers in history were the best players on their team let alone the best players on their team for a long stretch of time. But Bench was, even though he shared a clubhouse with Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, and George Foster. In his prime, Bench was a powerfully dangerous slugger with few peers in the National League. He’s the only catcher in baseball history to have 10 seasons with a WAR of 4.0 or higher. At the same time he was an incredible defensive catcher who in some ways revolutionized the art of playing the position. There was no doubt that he was in charge when he was behind the plate.

Like all catchers, Bench aged quickly, and by the age of 33 his knees were so bad he could hardly play anymore. He could still swing the bat, and had he been in the American League he could have had 2-3 more All-Star seasons as a designated hitter. But he was a Red for life, and in his final season he was still a good enough hitter that he finished tied for second on the team despite playing only 110 games.

He and Pete Rose were not good friends, and they never were. It’s true that Rose was jealous of Bench’s fame when he came along as a rookie. It was Pete’s town, and anyone who threatened that was treated icily by Charlie Hustle. The frostiness between the two existed to some extent for the entire time they were together on the Big Red Machine. The gambling scandal that tarnished Rose’s legacy only served to carve a bigger wedge between the two. Bench is one of the legends who doesn’t think Pete should get a shot at induction into the Hall of Fame.