May 1, 2014

BY JOHN D. HOMAN
Logan Media Services

CARTERVILLE – Although he was on the John A. Logan College campus Wednesday to tout the advantages of Stryker Orthopaedics at a free arthritis joint pain seminar, Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench still had plenty of time to talk baseball at a press conference.

Sometimes poking fun at his numerous physical maladies (17 broken bones) over the years, Bench displayed a quick wit and fondness for the game he cherished playing for years.

Bench broke into the game in 1968 with the Cincinnati Reds and was named Rookie of the Year. He was a two-time Most Valuable Player in the 1970s and helped lead the team to back-to-back World Series championships in ’75 and ’76.

He, along with teammates Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, George Foster and Ken Griffey were the key components of what the media termed the “Big Red Machine.”

Upon retiring from the game, Bench was selected to the Hall of Fame and is regarded by many baseball historians as the best all-around catcher to ever play the game.

Today, the 67-year-old Bench and his family splits time between Naples, Fla. and Palm Springs, Calif.

“I feel great. I really do. These new hips (manufactured by Stryker) gave me back a life,” he said. “I can golf again and coach my son’s team without being in a lot of pain.”

Bench said the game of baseball still excites him, especially in the days leading to the start of each season.

“I think the greatest thing in life is a baseball boxscore,” he said. “The people who love baseball know what I mean. And I’m a huge fan of today’s game, especially the catchers. The catching today is phenomenal. It’s still fun to me to watch the new kids come up and see what they can do.”

Bench said he moved out from behind the plate to the corner positions near to prolong his baseball career and prevent him from further physical damage to his knees, hips, ankles, feet and back.

Bench said he supports the new rule that went into effect this year that is aimed at protecting catchers from home plate collisions.

“I’m all for it,” he said, pointing to Major League managers Mike Matheny and Bruce Bochy, both former catchers, for taking the initiative to pressure league officials to effect change.

Bench said he has mostly fond memories of his time as a player and that he takes pride in what he and his teammates accomplished.

“I think one of the best compliments I have been paid over the years is when people tell me they are fans of another team, but always respected us and what we represented. I’d like to think we played the game the right way.”

When not working for Stryker specifically, Bench spends much of his free time as a motivational speaker.

“Last year, I raised $3 million for various charities, mostly helping with abused children and mothers. There are a lot of people that need me, quite honestly. I’m going to do everything I can to make people’s lives, including my children’s lives, easier.”