Birthday boy Johnny Bench once homered on Johnny Bench Night
Few people have been as important to the history of the Reds as their beloved Hall of Fame catcher, Johnny Bench, who celebrates his 70th birthday today.
From fresh-faced National League Rookie of the Year at age 20 to two-time NL MVP, Bench was an essential cog in the famed "Big Red Machine" that captured four pennants and back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976. It was a rare occurrence to see someone other than Bench behind home plate for the Reds from 1968 to 1980, and he won 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards for his mastery of the position.
By 1983, however, he had mostly moved away from catching due to the wear and tear it took on his body, and he'd already announced that he would retire at the end of the season.
To thank him for everything he'd done for the franchise, the Reds made Sept. 17 "Johnny Bench Night" at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. As The Oklahoman reported, it included quite the pregame festivities:
The ceremonies began 45 minutes before the game with the Astros. Bench, 35, the National League's MVP in 1970, appeared on the field at this baseball-in-the-round stadium from a door in center field and walked down a red carpet to a platform behind second base as a 12-piece band, its members dressed in tuxedos, played.
The crowd rose to its feet, and Bench stopped midway down the runway and took off his cap, turning to salute everyone.
Then came the game, in which Bench served as starting catcher for just the third time that season. With the Reds trailing the Astros, 2-0, in the bottom of the third, he stepped up to bat with a man on, hoping to turn back the clock.
Bench did just that, crushing a two-run homer to tie the game. The crowd went wild, and so did Bench:
Although normally a reserved figure, Bench had no reason to hold back his joy. So, after his trip around the bases, he gave teammates Paul Householder and Nick Esasky huge high-fives:
"I'm here because I love you," Bench told the crowd before the game. "I chose to stay in Cincinnati because I love this city and the fans. ... I am a very lucky person, a very honored and grateful person. I thank you so much, my family thanks you, and I'm gonna try like hell to play for you tonight."
He sure did. That was the 389th and final home run of Bench's career, and he made his night one to remember in Cincinnati.