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Biofile Johnny Bench Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: Hall of Fame Cincinnati Reds catcher.
DOB: December 7, 1947 In: Oklahoma City, OK
Childhood Heroes: “Mantle, easy. Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig. I started reading about him early, in the baseball library – which was very slim pickins when you only had 100 kids in the whole high school. Read about Lou Gehrig in grade school and how he went to Colombia and how he suffered through all the injuries, played al the games. Mickey, of course, from Oklahoma, was my inspiration.”
Nicknames: “Oh, they had ‘The Zinger from Binger.’ They had ‘The Rifle.’ They had ‘The Little General.’ I guess there were those. There’s still some floatin’ around I’m not really sure of.”
Hobbies/Interests: “I’m a golfer. Fisherman. Great shower singer. Terrific [smiles]. Love to play cards, play bridge, cribbage, I enjoy those.”
Early Baseball Memory: “Six-years old. Riding around the back of a pick-up truck. Tried to find nine kids. Sometimes we didn’t always do that. We used to have to drive around town and ask moms and dads if their kid could go play. So we’d have nine kids to play. Ride around in the back of the truck in our jeans and t-shirt.”
Pre-Game Feeling: “None. I knew what I was doing. So I didn’t worry.”
Favorite Movies: “To Kill a Mockingbird. Field of Dreams. Cincinnati Kid – strangely enough. Really enjoyed that. I’ve seen The Sound of Music eight or nine times. Shawshank Redemption – probably I’ve seen that every time it comes on. And anything that Clint wants to do is fine with me. I really enjoy action and I love mysteries. When he even Played Misty for Me was a barnburner.”
Favorite TV Shows: “I still go back to Andy Griffith Show [smiles]. I go back to CSI, CSI Miami. I watch Without A Trace, Murder She Wrote. I love old-time TV. And I spend a lot of time doing the old movies on AMC. I like to do that along with the Science and Discovery Channel.”
Favorite Meal: “I love the steak. But if I can get some good Mexican food with the guacamole, I’ll stay there all day [smiles]. Of course, the all-world is stone crabs in season. And you’re never going to get better than that.”
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Number one is strawberry. Then you got raspberry chocolate chip in Graeter’s Co. in Cincinnati.”

Greatest Sports Moment: “Winning the World Series, the first. It was a team event. When you walked in the locker room, everybody was a world champion. 1975, against the Red Sox. Euphoric, total joy. And it didn’t matter if they were the coaches, trainers, or the equipment man. If they hadn’t played many games, or if they played in every game. No greater feeling in the world than to know that you are champions of the world, you’re going to get a ring and you’re gonna get a parade.”
Most Painful Moment: “Probably losing the World Series, whether it be ’70 or ’72. It wasn’t any fun. I didn’t mind walking away from the game, because it was my time. I think losing the World Series was the hardest thing I ever had to deal with.”
Closest Baseball Friends: “Maybe 300 of ’em. You can go down a long list. Still long-time friends – Ron Santo is one of my closest friends. And all the guys I played with throughout my career. Just tremendous guys and I’d sit down anywhere, anytime with ’em.”
Toughest Competitors: “I think about Randy Hundley. And Pete (Rose). And Joe (Morgan). Tony (Perez). Jerry Grote. A lot of times they were catchers. And Randy and Jerry were unbelievable competitors. You go through the pitchers – Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, guys that weren’t gonna give you an inch. And that’s what you admired and respected. Because they said, Okay, here it is. Try to hit it. And it was always one-on-one.”
Funniest Players: “Well, Ken Griffey Jr. was just hilarious. And Tony Perez created more mayhem than anybody should [smiles], be allowed to do. But thank God he did, because he was the one, the glue for our entire baseball team. We didn’t need comics in our clubhouse. They weren’t allowed. We were out there to play baseball.”

Funny Baseball Memory: “There’s plays where guys started in left field and kicked it all the way to the bullpen. I think Bob Bailor knocked a flyball over the fence. That Seaver pitched. It went right back to the wall and it hit right into his glove and bounced right over the fence. And when he got to the dugout, Seaver said, If it was a sandwich, you would have caught it [smiles]. Of course, Jack Billingham was a funny guy. He’d walk in after the first inning – before we’d even hit – and say, Don’t we have a run yet? And it took all the pressure off everybody. And he always wanted us to score eight runs.”
Favorite Athletes To Watch: “Barry (Bonds) and Alex (Rodriguez) and Jeff Bagwell’s always been a personal friend of mine. I’ve been a fan of his. I love to watch Schilling pitch. Randy Johnson. I enjoy the underdog. I like the way Bret Boone plays. I like the Red Sox, I like their grittiness. I’ve become a Yankee fan again. Because of the way they play together as a team. There’s a long list. I like Scott Rolen. He goes out, he does the job, he hits the ball, he runs the bases. He doesn’t get carried away. Albert Pujols. You love to see fresh, new, exciting, talented blood come into the game. And these guys have it.”
People Qualities Most Admired: “Honesty. Fairness. Compassion. People that generally care. And are willing to help you without having to expect anything in return.”
Career Accomplishments: Two World Championships; Two MVP and one World Series MVP award; 10 Gold Gloves; 14-time All-Star Game appearances; .267 career average with 389 homers and 1,376 RBI in 17 seasons; 1968 Rookie of the Year; Hall of Fame induction in 1989; .279 BA in 23 World Series games.

(Johnny Bench artwork by LeRoy Neiman.)

About Mark Malinowski

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