Up close: Q&A with Johnny Bench
BY BARRY LEWIS World Sports Writer
Friday, June 03, 2011
6/03/11 at 3:13 AM
Johnny Bench is a Hall-of-Fame catcher who played 17 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds from 1967-83. He was a 14-time All-Star, won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves, won two National League most-valuable-player awards, was a member of two World Series champions and four pennant winners, and hit 389 home runs. Bench, 63, was named to Baseball's All-Century Team in 1999. The Binger native was at Oklahoma Surgical Hospital in Tulsa on Thursday visiting with doctors and joint-replacement patients as a spokesman for Stryker Orthopaedics, which develops, manufactures and sells orthopedic products and services. He also is a spring training instructor with the Reds.
Did you get involved with Stryker after your first hip-replacement surgery?
Yes. I had my right hip put in seven years ago. And I had a new (left) hip, actually the first of its kind, in February of last year. This new hip that was put in has just been a wunderkind of relief and technology - it's just been fabulous for me and so many other people. I was in the hospital four days with my right hip, but only one day with my left hip. To feel the immediate change in my health and demeanor, and everything else about me, it's the best I've felt in 40 years. I want people to know they don't have to live with pain. I've got a 5-year-old and 21-month-old, so I need to be as active as I possibly can.
What was it like for you before your hip replacements?
I had suffered from so much pain. My doctor was from Cincinnati but had moved to Florida, and by accident, he diagnosed my hip. He was visiting in Cincinnati and just saw me walking and told me my hip was gone. If you live in pain, you're just going to get older and older. I couldn't sleep at night, I couldn't walk through airports, I couldn't go anywhere. I couldn't play more than seven holes of golf; the pain was killing me. Seven weeks later after the right hip was done, I was back (playing golf) and shot even-par.
Were your hip problems due to all your years of catching?
Five hundred thousand squats had a little to do with it, but it started when I was in a car wreck when I was 18 years old - we were coming from Wichita to Oklahoma City, and there was a drunk driver on the wrong side of a four-lane highway. That's when the trauma started on that joint, and osteoarthritis is what happened. I never had any problems with my knees; everybody is totally amazed with that.
Your hip problems weren't your only ailments through the years?
I had 17 broken bones, shoulder surgery and major thoracic surgery when part of my lung was taken out.
Were you surprised that there was such an outcry about home-plate collisions after San Francisco Giants star catcher Buster Posey's season-ending leg and ankle injury last week?
Buster was a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award (as the top collegiate catcher in 2008) and is a great kid - I called him after the World Series last year. When I heard about the injury, I was anxious to see how this happened. Buster put himself in such a bad position. First of all, my catchers don't sit in front of home plate. They stand away from home plate and work back to the plate. But we (catchers) are just fair game. You've got a guy running around third base at 210 to 220 pounds with 3 percent body fat and with sprinter's speed. I teach my kids to stay away from the plate when you don't have the ball so the runner actually sees home plate and his thought is, slide. But Buster is laying in front of home plate, and it's like having a disabled car in the middle of a four-lane highway. You're just going to get smacked. Show them the plate. You can always catch the ball and step, or step and catch the ball, as long as you've got the runner on the ground. And if you have the runner on the ground, there's less chance of any severe collision.
How do you evaluate the quality of catching these days?
People keep saying we don't have any catchers anymore. Well, we don't have many catchers who put up big numbers offensively, and that's why Buster and Joe Mauer became known because they can hit in the middle of the lineup, they can hit for average, home runs and power. But in the history of baseball, there have been only 13 Hall-of-Fame catchers in 140 years - that's less than one per decade. When someone is mentioned as the next Johnny Bench, I'll say: 'Guys we've got a long way to go. This is just one year or two years. You've got to be healthy for 12 to 13 years.' So you wind up now with Joe on the DL (disabled list), and with Buster's injury, this may change his whole lifestyle. The catchers are still there doing great things defensively - they call, they receive and they throw. I like watching most of them.
Which TV series guest-starring role did you like doing best - 'The Partridge Family' or 'Mission: Impossible?'
They were both interesting. I was a waiter on "The Partridge Family" and a captain of the guards on "Mission: Impossible." But how about "Yes, Dear" and "Married: With Children"?
Original Print Headline: Q&A with Johnny Bench
Barry Lewis 918-581-8393
Former baseball star Johnny Bench hands an autographed ball to hip-replacement patient Trent Boyd during a visit at Oklahoma Surgical Hospital Thursday. Bench is a spokesman for Stryker Orthopaedics. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World