Berks County Bar Association The Berks Barrister Winter 2019 - 24

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No Debate: Catching Great Johny Bench Captivates
at Law Foundation Holiday Benefit Luncheon
Continued from page 23
The mood of those in attendance was clearly receptive to
understanding Bench's message, as well as the lyrics of the song.
Reflecting on the purpose of the event, being to benefit the
Children's Home and other community organizations, Bench
added how those associated with the event sponsors were clearly
attempting to take care of business in a proper way.
Whether it was the large terrain of baseball stories Bench
told, with one flowing after another, or his discussion of life
lessons, whether they applied to baseball or otherwise, the
rapport he achieved with those in attendance was palpable.
There were many more stories Bench could have shared had
there been even more time. Those seeking more of Johnny
Bench's memories of his baseball career will find a great deal on
YouTube, as well as in the excellent article by Brian Smith on
Bench's remarks before and during the event, which appeared
in the December 9 Reading Eagle, found at: https://www.
readingeagle.com/sports/article/for-johnny-bench-theres-noplace-like-home.
As to the Bench vs. Berra question referred to earlier - who
was the greatest catcher in the history of baseball - a review of
most "greatest" lists regularly rank them No. 1 and No. 2, with
Bench usually rated ahead. (ESPN rated Josh Gibson ahead of
Berra.) Those commentators who place Berra ahead of Bench
base it on post-season accomplishments, or Berra's tendency
to strike out less. Sorting things out, Bench played 17 seasons,
Berra played 19 seasons, although it was really only 18, as in
1965 he appeared in just four games with the Mets. Although
Berra's career batting average of .285 was higher than Bench's
average of .267, Berra's OPS (.830) was only slightly higher than
Bench's (.817). Bench hit 389 home runs compared to Berra's
358. Bench drove in 1376 runs (averaging 80 a year). Berra
knocked in 1430 (average 79 a year). The Yankees of the 1950s
and early 1960s indeed had a longer dynasty than Bench's Big
Red Machine of the 1970s.
The most physically demanding position in baseball took
its toll on each of them. During the final three years of his
career, Bench caught only 13 games although he appeared in
281 games.2 Berra's last year of catching more than 100 games
was 1959, even though he would appear in 393 more games.
His career essentially ended in 1963 despite appearing in a few
games with the Mets in 1965.3 When asked about a catcher
who has torn up the league for a year or two, Bench's response is
2

Law Foundation Events Chair, Mark S.
Caltagirone, and Johnny Bench
always to suggest that until that recent level of performance has
been sustained for seven or eight years, there is no point in trying
to make a comparison. That automatically eliminates a host of
other catchers from consideration as the best-ever.
Aficionados of the relatively new statistic of "WAR" would
find Bench's WAR rating of 75.2, to be impressively superior to
Berra's 59.4. With their offensive statistics being otherwise very
similar, the WAR comparison reflects the different eras in which
they played, which gives the edge to Bench.
Ironically Bill James, while rating Berra No. 1 of all time
in his "Baseball Abstract," concludes his discussion on Bench,
who he rates as No. 2, stating: "Bench was a lot more impressive
defensively than Berra...Yogi was very good, but Bench was
spectacular." No explanation is given why Berra is ranked No. 1.
So there it is. Johnny Bench - greatest catcher of all time. I
rest my case.
Brian C. Engelhardt, Esquire, retired from BB&T's Legal
Department and is a regular contributor to The Berks
Barrister and the Berks County Historical Review. He has
written for a number of publications by the Society for
American Baseball Research and is the author of the
insightful and dynamic, "Reading's Big League
Exhibition Games."

Bench was behind the plate when Hank Aaron hit home run number 715 and fielded Aaron's 3000th hit as a centerfielder.
3

24 | Berks Barrister

Remember the great shot of Berra in left field watching Mazeroski's home run leave Forbes Field in 1960.


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Berks County Bar Association The Berks Barrister Winter 2019

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https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksBarrister/BerksBarrister_Springr2020
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https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/BerksBarrister/Berksbarrister_Summer2019
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