Johnny Bench was honored with a statue at the Southwestern Bell Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City. Here is an incredible word-for-word transcript of that July 27, 2001, news conference and statue dedication speeches that followed:
News Conference Inside Ball Park
Oklahoma City RedHawks General Manager Tim O’Toole (TO) : Obviously, neither one of these gentlemen need any introduction to you. It’s not often that you get two Hall of Famers to visit Oklahoma City and so we are proud to have Johnny Bench (JB) and Sparky Anderson (SA) here with us today. (Anderson died in 2010 at 74)
So, they will both make some opening comments and then we will take questions.
Johnny Bench (JB): I’ll open by saying I am truly humbled by this dedication today. I can’t tell you how impressive this statue is, how much it means to me, how much it means to me because it’s Oklahoma, and the fact that it’s going before this ballpark.
I’ve been very fortunate to grow up in this state and to, I guess, have this state support me as much as it has. It quite honestly gave me a day-to-day dedication and determination to play baseball and to do it in the right fashion because, I felt about in 1966 the fear of failure and failing the people that believed in me from Binger, Oklahoma, and Caddo County, and to be drafted by the Reds and have the opportunity to play for the Cincinnati Reds was, one of the greatest teams in the history of baseball.
I didn’t realize how fortunate I was going to be in my career to play for the Reds and then I became even that much more fortunate in 1970 when Sparky Anderson came over to manage our ball club and, he’s been a great friend, he’s a mentor, he’s a father figure in so many ways.
Even though he’s not that old, he looks it.
I’ve been blessed in my career to have some many good things happen to me – to make the Hall of Fame, to have my father there for that particular day, to have a father who said, “catching was the quickest way to the big leagues, and is what the Major Leagues needed.”
And when I came over here about four years ago with Tim O’Toole and I saw the stadium, and later on Lee Allan Smith (Oklahoma Events President) talked about putting a statue up, I thought, “yeah that’s great”.
I never thought it would come to a realization– that it would happen, and then to actually see the process. When I went to sign the statue so that they could go ahead and fire it, I actually walked in– my mouth went open. I just stood there.
I could not believe, first of all, the statue was way too good looking.
Sparky, and I said we need to do something to the cheekbones and the nose because it’s too perfect.
But it is truly a very humbling, awe-inspiring thing for me, and hopefully it will stand for a lot of young kids to know that even from the smallest town you can be a success, and that if you have determination and drive you can be successful.
And from a team that had 10 baseball players, nine basketball players on the team, and to know that you can go to this kind of heights and then have a statue made of you. And, really, I will speak for one thing, for Sparky. The reason he came here was to see which pigeon would be the first to visit my statue.
I will open up any questions, or if Sparky has some comments.
Sparky Anderson (SA): I just want to say first: I want to thank John so much for asking me.
That’s a great honor for someone to ask you to come to a presentation of a statue. Can you imagine that. I can’t imagine that.
What would they do with me? I don’t know. They ain’t got enough grooves in that to get the wrinkles.
I told somebody, a photographer I think, as DeCarlo Hale (RedHawks’ 2001 manager) was coming by and he said something to me about this talk and I said well, I tell you something, Johnny carried me to further heights than he carried himself, and if he can carry me that far, I can certainly show up in Oklahoma City.
That’s what I told the gentleman there today.
It is. I’ll put it this way. Alex Grammas, because he’s the one that said it. When John would do something with the mitt, Alex would say, you know something Sparky, we’ll never see that again and I knew what he was talking about, so then I would answer, “oh yes we will, when he does it.”
So, that is the type, you were not looking at failure, he could’ve never failed in ’66. I’d seen him.
He’ll remember this. He was playing for Cincinnati when Cincinnati and Houston combined teams in the instructional league.
And I’m sitting there for a couple innings and I’m watching and I asked the man George Kissell, who ran the Cardinal program. I said, “George, who is that catching.” Oh, he said, I don’t know. He’s some young kid named Bench that played at Tampa.
I said, “He played where?” He said “Tampa.” So, when I went by him (Bench), I asked him if I could see his glove and I took it over to our dugout and I showed our catchers.
I said, “Gentleman, that’s a glove of someone that is going to be the very, very best catcher in baseball.”
I knew it then. I’m not making that up. I knew then that we were seeing something and then Casey Stengel told me, just imagine, Casey Stengel, he always called me Shotgun.
He said, “Shotgun, that young guy catching for you.” Never called nobody by their name. You know, that would be an insult to him.
He said, “I’ve seen them all and never seen this before. You, in your lifetime, will never see it again.” And he says, “I even believe that no one in the history of the game will ever see this come down the pike again.”
Now, I don’t know what better credentials or what better thing could ever be said of you, for the old man to pay you that tribute, and that’s what it was gentlemen.
Nobody realized that this is the best (turns to motion towards JB), and the poor people that are 20 and younger, you didn’t get a chance. You didn’t see it. And when they talk about these other guys, yeah there’ve been some good guys, but please!!
JB: Don’t get in any more trouble.
SA: I got in trouble.
JB: I became a one-handed catcher because Randy Hundley caught 160 games (in 1968). I wore the helmet because Sherm Lollar wore it, but, at the same time, I wore it because I got mad when I made an out and I broke the helmet, and so I wore the helmet to keep these foul tips from going off the top of my head and taking my hair off.
Obviously, I didn’t do it soon enough, but I wore it then and I learned, as I will tell every young player, every young catcher that wants to catch, catch every ball, and do it in your own style.
I was fortunate. I was given, in 1970, Sparky Anderson became the manager of the Reds, the first day, and I remember the ’66 incident, it was in St. Petersburg because I was walking across the field and he said, “young man, could I see your glove”.
And then in 1970 I walked out of the clubhouse in spring training and Sparky said, “let me ask you a question John.” “What if you were able to do this and do this and do this” and for the first time in my life I felt important as a professional baseball player with a brain, and he gave me the opportunity to go out prove myself.
We had the respect for Sparky and he gave me the reins to catch, and I guess some of you know how lucky you are as a player to work with a great boss and great leader that is there to allow you, and yet at the same time, to pull in the reins when you needed it.
It wasn’t just go where you want to Johnny. It was whoa, we don’t do that. And there were many occasions when it happened and, believe, me, that’s why I say he was a mentor, a father, and a friend, and I was very lucky. Any questions?
Reporter: Johnny, what makes you a good catcher, in your own estimation? Hitting, defense.
Why did you end up being the greatest at your position?
JB: Well, there was two things. it was the drive every day to play because, I didn’t want to fail anybody.
I wanted, I thought I could be the best.
I was always competing against older kids, no matter when. When I grew up in Binger, when I was 9, I was playing with 11 and 12-year-olds. When I was 12, I was playing with 13 and 14-year-olds. When I was 14, I played American Legion baseball.
So, I was always playing a little ahead of schedule against higher competition, and then I played on such a great team. they inspired you.
Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Pérez, Davey Concepción, Griffey, and Cesar Geronimo — everybody that played on that team had one common goal and that was to play hard and I just developed a style for me, and maybe it was because I squatted down the way my body would let me squat, and I caught the way I could catch a ball, and I always had a great arm.
I was blessed with that (arm) and I took care of it, I worked hard for it.
I played home run derby at the park, and I felt like there were two sides to the game. I always thought I had to be the best catcher and I thought I had to be the best hitter and the best clutch hitter, and I guess that’s what drives and motivates me, and it was fun. It was easy and it was fun.
After the lung surgery (lesion removed in 1972) it got a little harder, but it was fun. I didn’t think there was a pitcher who could get me out.
It was called inner conceit. I always called it inner conceit. It was the ability to be better than the situation.
They couldn’t steal and they couldn’t get me out. They did, but, at the same time, I always felt like it was a mistake when they did because you had to believe every time you went up there that you could get that hit.
You could throw out a runner, you could pick off a runner. Whatever catch had to be made, you made it. It was fun. It was really fun playing baseball.
I can’t tell you what joy it is to play on a ball club that you knew every day you were going to win basically. Seattle is finding that out now and it’s fun.
You see how much they enjoy how hard they play.
Reporter: That drive you are talking about, was it passed down from a coach or your father?
JB: I learned very quickly that discipline was very important. My father taught me discipline but he gave me a chance when, at the time I was three years old, to play. When I was six years old, we rode around town on the back of a pickup truck and we’d have to drive around town literally to find an eighth or ninth kid, and we would lose.
My dad would say, “That’s all right, we’ll get ’em tomorrow. We’ll grab a cheeseburger.” And then we beat a team and that team cried. At the end of that year we beat a team that actually cried and I said, “Dad, what’s wrong with them?” and he said, “They haven’t learned to lose yet son,”
When I saw Mickey Mantle playing on TV when I was four years old and they announced Mickey Mantle, the switch-hitting super star for the New York Yankees, I said, “Dad, you can be from Oklahoma and play in the Major Leagues?”
I said, “That’s what I want to be,” and he said “well, catching is the quickest way to the Major Leagues, and what the Major Leagues need.”
But I didn’t catch. Everyone knew I was a catcher but I didn’t catch. I played third base, and pitched, and I just didn’t think it was right for anybody to get you out or for anybody to get a base hit off of you when you pitched.
I just thought that there’s nothing like winning. It’s the only thing, and you accept losing but, at the same point, there’s only one thing in life and that’s winning, if you’re going to really play.
Reporter: How good of a pitcher could you have been?
JB: I don’t know. Sparky never would give me the chance. That’s the only thing. He played me in left field, he played me in center field, he played me in right field. He never played me at short or second, and WOULD NOT give me that opportunity (to pitch).
There wasn’t any way he was going to take a chance on me there. I don’t know. I had a good curve ball; I had a good slider.
Arm-wise, probably, you know you could have been successful but I don’t think there’s any question that I put on the right equipment to go for my career, and it would have been fun but these guys are so good they can time a jet plane.
I’m glad I didn’t have to do it, in some ways, but I guess I never really thought about it.
Reporter: Your dad said you would have been another Tom Seaver.
JB: I don’t think so, Seaver was slow (chuckling). He didn’t throw that hard. He didn’t throw it right. Yeah, Seaver and Nolan Ryan, and those guys. They didn’t throw real hard. (laughs)
I don’t know. I would assume that I would have gone out there with the same determination and it wouldn’t have changed my game plan because catching was pitching as far as I was concerned.
I pitched every game that I caught!
So, I assumed that when I had the opportunity, I would have gone out and won a lot of ball games.
But I would have always taken the chance I would have hurt my arm at any point and you see so many kids that it has happened to, so even with all the things I went through, I don’t ever regret what I did and the opportunity to play the way I did.
Reporter: What do you think of today’s generation of catchers?
I think you’re always going to get a catcher; they’ve always gotten a bad rap.
If you went back to Sparky’s generation in the 1950s, or you go from Gabby Hartnett and 80 years ago.
You’re only going to come up with a catcher a decade, usually, that really would knock your socks off or you could name one decade and one particular catcher.
There are only a few names that really stand out as far as catching but there’s always been pretty decent catchers.
But with today’s speed, they’re playing on Astro Turf, they’ve got track shoes, they can run the 100 in 9.5, or the ball drills down, and so it has become very hard to be a catcher.
They (modern catchers) just don’t have the opportunity necessary, and they don’t always have the arm, and unless you can do it from both sides of the plate then you’re never going to give them the real credit as being one of the upper echelon.
You can be an outfielder and not catch a fly ball and hit 60 home runs and it would be okay but you can’t be a catcher and not have both sides of the plate.
Reporter: What about the state of the game Sparky? It’s been known as the American pastime for so long. Has it lost some of its luster?
SA: Myself, personally, I don’t think the game has changed.
I think the way we’re going about some of this stuff has changed.
In other words, to me, baseball was meant for young people to be able to see. For instance, we’ll use Johnny Bench, we’ll use Pete Rose, Joe D (Joe DiMaggio), (Mark) McGwire, any of these great players you want to use, Sammy Sosa.
Can you imagine an 8-year-old kid getting an opportunity to go see them play? I can’t even believe when he goes home the stories he makes up that he’s seen these guys.
Now, when you’re charging the prices that you’re charging today. How can I, who I am working for my hard-earned money be able to take the children to a game more than maybe once a year.
I would like to see something done for the children. I’m saying, the grownups, if they want to go pay it that’s up to them. I would like to see a way that the young people get a chance to see these guys. That, to me, is so important.
JB: I think the one thing that’s a concern, obviously, is the upcoming contract (collective bargaining).
At the same time, the problem I see, as well, is the fact that our younger generation, I have a son who is 11 years old, and they have to combine three teams to get one.
The young kids are playing lacrosse, they’re playing soccer. They have so many other outside interests with the Game Boys and TV, and with the PlayStations, and all the cartoons and everything else, and we’re afraid to let them go to the park by themselves.
We’re going to drive them to every practice. There’s no such thing as riding your bicycle. There’s no such thing as playing in the backyard down in the empty lot. It just doesn’t happen anymore.
We’ve become prisoners within our own right and that really bothers me but todays’ kids, they really don’t have the interest, and that the fields are not very well maintained and they have hops.
Kids get hit. These things happen. So we’re losing our kids and we’re losing the fact that we’re going to lose our adults if this thing is not brought into at least some kind of sane contract that will be agreed upon by the players and the owners.
I think they (players and owners) believe that nothing can happen to it (baseball). It’s not that way in my mind. I’m hoping something can be done to bring at least some sanity to the contracts so that we can grow again.
At least we have Triple A ball and we have the other minor league levels, where we’re seeing a great amount of interest from a lot of families that are coming out and supporting it. That’s still the nucleus, but we still have to be able to make baseball so the fans can afford it, as Sparky said.
Reporter: Are you planning on visiting Binger? (Binger, Oklahoma, his hometown)
JB: I’ve already been. I was down Wednesday. I was picked up by my buddy Dean Crane and went down there and visited, and obviously in all these years past we’ve lost a lot of our people and I’ve got several of my teammates coming up for the dedication.
My son, the last time we were there, he worked the café down there and made $3 in tips so he wanted to go back and work that and so we did that.
We got to run around and eat a few peanuts. You know, the best thing in the world is sitting down at the café and just seeing all the folks come in. I saw my old grocery friend.
I still laugh about the story, because I stole a jawbreaker when I was like four years old and my mother (Kathleen “Katy” Bench) made me go down and tell Mr. Helms that I had taken that jawbreaker and, God, I cried. But yeah, I went down to visit.
Morris Helms came in the café when I was there. Now Morris Helms is 94 years old and it means so much to see those people because, no matter what, those are the people that I call friends. Mr. Helms, and the rest of the people I grew up with and still respect, so when I go back it’s like stepping back in another time, you know.
Hi Morris, how you doing? How’s Frankie? Ted Jackson, and some of these characters don’t change, and I think in a lot of ways you long for that and in some ways that you’d never give up the opportunity, and what you gave to them is the same thing. Because, the sign (entering Binger) still says “Home of Johnny Bench.”
To them it means a heck of a lot and I’m glad that I was able to do all I did and keep the name for Oklahoma and for Binger, and my family.
That’s always been a very, very important thing for me and it worked.
Reporter: To Sparky: How secure is Johnny Bench’s status as the best catcher of all time?
SA: I know this is going to sound very silly to you but I’m going to say it, and I knew it when I first saw it. I believe that Johnny Bench was touched by God when he was born because you cannot do that, anything that good.
I’ll show you this way. You pick the best shortstop ever in the history defensively, and go right around to every position, Johnny Bench will play his position better than any one of them will play theirs.
Now, how good is that? It’s like Alex Grammas would always say, “We will never see it again” and I would say “not until he does it.
I tell you, we played Oakland in the World Series in 72.
(Bert) Campaneris, how many bases did he steal that year (league leading 52)? He took off the first time and he had to stop because the ball was at second and he was 20 feet away from the bag and that paused any more running for the rest of the series.
If you remember the series, Oakland never ran again. Now, that’s kind of thing that you see with John, and you only see it once in your lifetime.
JB: I think the athletes today; we see them hit 70 home runs. I don’t think there’s any question that that’s the stuff that I marvel at.
If I did those things, I don’t know if I did them, Sparky says I did them. So, I don’t know. The athletes are greater, they’re stronger. They’re breaking records, but they’ll never be the all-century catcher from the last millennium, that was mine.
They can have all the next millenniums they want; I don’t care. I got that one and I’m taking it, and they can’t go back. I marvel at that.
We both marvel at the athleticism of today’s young players. They’re bigger, they’re stronger, they’re faster, and no matter what, you know they’re terrific and if they break records that’s what it’s all there for.
Somebody set that record to make me better, and somebody else better. I didn’t follow a catcher but Babe Ruth will always be Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron will be Hank Aaron, and Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa brought baseball back, and there’s still the Alex Rodriguezes and Ken Griffey, Jr.
Hopefully he’ll be back to health and there’s teams like the Yankees and there’s now new stories like Seattle, and we need to take a new focus.
It’s just as important for what you say and what you reporters write as to what all of our perceptions will be of sports from now on and we can go back and say somebody did this and we have to preface everything, “Oh, by the way, he was this (say something negative)” but if we always do that, then we’ll never have quite the heroes that we need in order to impress our young kids.
The heroes of our young kids are Wolverine and the X-Men and people that never have a bad day. They’re always doing that so, I was fortunate. I got to play in my millennium, so I’m taking that one.
Reporter: Johnny, is it harder to hit a baseball or a golf ball?
JB: I knew what I was doing with a baseball. I still don’t know what with the golf ball. I’m still trying to figure that out.
I think it’s the competitive nature of what it is. I’m going to play in a couple of senior events in two weeks. I’m going to Minneapolis and then Park City. To watch those guys hit it, they don’t have any problem.
You go out there with Gil Morgan and Hale Irwin and the guys and everything else, and it’s just a blast. I have so much fun, I’m not going to beat them.
You’ve hit a golf ball, haven’t you? I’m sure you can’t hit a curve ball, so I think it’s probably a lot harder to hit a curve ball. In fact, I’ll tell you how hard it is. You know how easy golf is? Sparky broke 90 the other day.
SA: I did.
JB: Now, does that tell you how easy golf is?
SA: And I didn’t cheat.
JB: Look at this. Don’t show them your swing. I wish we had a club.
SA: No, No. Never tell how you do it.
JB: Sparky, on a good drive, will carry it up to 170 or 180 yards at times.
SA: How else are you going to get it there? It’s hard to get that roll.
JB: He’s good around the greens.
Reporter: Are you a scratch golfer?
JB: Yes. I’ve suffered through a lot of back problems and I’ve got two arthritic disks and I was in a car wreck when I was out here (Oklahoma) in 1966, when I was coming home from Wichita.
It still bothers me but I don’t have any grand illusions since I know that I’m towards the end of my golfing career per se as far as playing on any senior events.
That’s not a goal of mine. I’ve already played in senior events and very few people can ever say that, so I’ve accomplished that. I’m just going to go out and try to get my son over here and get him through school and do the best job I can.
SA: He’ll be through high school by about 32, right Bobby (Bench’s son sitting nearby)? He wants to be a professional student.
Darl DeVault: Who was the hardest throwing pitcher you caught?
JB: The hardest pitcher I caught was Wayne Simpson. Wayne threw 95 mph and I had no idea; he had no idea where it was going.
He would hold onto the baseball. He still doesn’t have a clue how he gripped it. I didn’t have a clue how he gripped it.
He just reached in his glove, found the ball, and he grabbed a hold of it, and threw it and he had the ability to come across whatever seams it was, and he had no idea. He really didn’t.
He threw it in the strike zone.
It was somewhere in here, (motions a tight strike zone) but it was going this way, this way, this way, this way, and I mean he’d kill me.
He broke my hand.
And he had a curve ball that would stop on a dime. So……he was the hardest pitcher to catch, but yet I didn’t have to be out there that long. He was 12-1 at the All-Star break (his first season 1970).
Tom Seaver was probably the best pitcher that I ever caught. Obviously, that goes without saying.
There are the (Don) Gulletts and the (Early) Wynns and the Gary Nolans. Jim Maloney probably, and I don’t know if Sparky ever saw him pitch. I guess he saw him pitch some. Jim Maloney threw a 96-97 mph and had just an unbelievable curve ball.
Those were the guys; you didn’t mind catching those guys because they knew where it was going. It was that wild left-hander that would come in firing and some people would come out of the bullpen and bounce it out there about five feet in front of the plate.
You know, some guys do that, they just do that, and they think it’s okay. I’m just trying to break it off and I go out there (to mound) and break them in.
I would go out there and talk to them. I said “we don’t do that here, I’m back here friend. I don’t need to be jumping in the dirt trying to pick up your balls.”
I’d say, “Let’s just throw it over the plate.” We were fortunate. We got rid of those guys. Sparky didn’t give them any chance.
Reporter: With the speed of the guys on the basepaths today is it different from when you played?
JB: No, no, no. There are those guys that run now. There’s always the speed. Davey Lopes and Kenny Lofton were as good as baserunners and base stealers as there ever has been in the history of the game.
I faced Maury Wills. I faced Lou Brock. I faced the rabbits down in Houston and the ones in Pittsburgh. These guys today don’t run nearly like those guys. They aren’t as good as the base stealers. (Turns to Sparky) Do you think?
SA: I agree.
JB: They don’t get as good a jump, yeah, they have speed but they can’t touch some of those guys. You don’t know how good (Lou) Brock and (Davey) Lopes, Tim Raines and that Omar Moreno were. Those guys were just ruthless. They just took off.
And then there were teams like the Cubs and the Mets where you didn’t even need to warm up because they didn’t have anybody to steal. But then you go down to Houston, you’d have six guys running. These guys today. Nah…. (Dismissive gesture)
Rickey Henderson, now that’s a different story. He could (run).
SA: He (Ricky Henderson) could do it.
JB: You get me a fair pitcher and I don’t care. (JB chuckles) You get me one guy like Don Gullett, we were probably, I’d say 98-99 percent. We may have had one stolen base out of a hundred.
Gary Nolan, they asked Sparky, we were at a fan caravan for Cincinnati one time and they asked Sparky, “If Gary Nolan is pitching, Lou Brock is stealing, what do you tell Johnny?” and Sparky said, “Throw it to short and head him off.” It was just his high leg kick and you couldn’t do it. That was the answer he gave. If you give me the right choice of pitcher to get the ball to me, I’ll get the runner out.
Reporter: Sparky, what was the most amazing thing you ever saw Johnny do?
SA: I have to show you. I’ve been teaching it ever since he taught me. John Bench is the only catcher in the history of baseball ever to do this.
Give me a ball. (handed a baseball) See this?
Now this is home plate. (motions down to his left)
There is a base hit and the guys scoring from third. Now Johnny didn’t wait here in the basepath for you to run over him and knock the ball out of his hand. He used to move up here out a half step towards the pitcher’s mound and wait for the ball.
Just as the ball got to his glove, which is illegal, he would step back into the basepath with that left leg protected by his shin guard. You slide and he stepped. POW and Scipio Spinks broke his leg doing that.
Johnny always had great peripheral vision. If you started your slide, now you are dead, you won’t, can’t do nothing more.
He steps across, you hit the shin guards. I have taught that ever since I saw Johnny do it. This is the most simple, easiest way to protect the plate I have ever seen. That’s how he played.
JB: The whole idea is to get them on the ground. If they see home plate, they slide. If they don’t see home plate, all they see is you, they go over you.
I tell our kids that it was interesting. Jason LaRue made a play at the plate against Atlanta the other night and he said, “Well, what I wanted to do was get him on the ground and then I figured at the last second I could stick my foot out. Wow, I wonder where he heard that?” but that’s what it’s all about. You learn things, and you teach things, and it becomes easier for all of them to learn how to do things.
SA: We had a test, and John, answer this question? They sent a doctor from the medical school in Kansas City. He wanted to test three guys, John, Pete (Rose), and Joe (Morgan), for all their different tests. Well, things are going so well he ended up testing 17 of our players. Anyway, he tried to trick John with peripheral vision. He had this light over here that changed from red, green, orange, but John, he never missed a one. The doctor said he had never seen peripheral vision like John’s. That’s right. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. (turns to John) Do I remember all the neat things about your career? Yeah. That’s right, you can talk about all the things you want but it was a gift that was given.
JB: I just found the right place to fit in.
Reporter: You had a tremendous career. In 1970 you won the MVP and two years later you won it again in ’72. In between you had some tough times. Talk about what you had to do to come back.
JB: Sparky lost everybody after 1970 and that’s the hardest thing I ever did was to go out and catch a staff that there just wasn’t any way to change.
We tried so hard and everything else and I remember like opening day the pitcher threw me a 3-2 change up with the bases loaded. So all of a sudden everything’s different in everybody’s mind, my mind as well.
All of a sudden, they’re going backwards and so you started reacting in a backward fashion and you started to look or think differently, and then for our ballclub, it was probably the longest, hardest season.
SA: We lost players in spring training. We had lost Bobby Tolan for the year. We lost Tony Perez with his hand. He hurt his hand and he couldn’t swing, but he played. Then we lost (Davey) Concepcion two days before we broke camp.
We lost somebody else and I told him (points to John), “Hey, you can’t do this.” He’s trying to carry all of this with these people out of the lineup. You can’t do it. I don’t care who you are, nobody. It’s everybody together, one guy can’t carry it all.
Reporter: With free agency the way it is today, how lucky were you to play in the era you played in. Were you lucky?
JB: How lucky? I don’t know what I would have done with 25 million dollars a year. You’re right. I’m pretty lucky not to have to play now. I’m a lot better off playing for that $11,000 I played for that first year and there’s nothing like winning two MVPs and jumping it up to $80,000 o-o-o-h-h-h.
Reporter: Maybe I should rephrase.
JB: I don’t know that I would have been any different today. If I had played for the Seattle Mariners or might have played for the New York Yankees, or whatever.
I don’t know that – to know that I played when we had the players we had, would I have dealt with free agency.
Would I not have dealt with free agency? Would I have had an agent, would I not? I don’t know. It’s supposition on anybody’s part to say that. I’ve been very fortunate.
I was blessed when I played, and now I have an opportunity. I do motivational speaking throughout the country. I work for four or five companies. I travel. I have a great life. I play my golf.
I have a wonderful son that I am trying to help to raise and so I wish I was younger. I wish I could start over. I wish I hadn’t had lung surgery. I wish I had different things happen in my life but, at the same time, you can’t worry about those things.
There are no regrets. If there were regrets, they are just supposed to improve your wants and needs for tomorrow or make me work a little harder to do something.
And I’ll still have some of my faults and I’ll still keep them, and I probably won’t get any better at some of them. My golf putting will probably stay the same. It probably won’t get any better either.
When you have days like this happen in your life, I don’t think there’s any regrets about anything. I have got a man sitting beside me that’s a Hall of Fame manager, and a brilliant man who not only could manage great players because he gained their respect and they respected him, but he went to Detroit where they didn’t have great players.
He found players but he managed them into a winner. So, I feel honored. I thank Lee Allan Smith; I thank all of our donors. I thank the RedHawks and the Texas Rangers organization. I thank all of you. It helped because throughout those years, the headlines were still very important here in Oklahoma.
The people who, for me, Mickey Mantle, for him Johnny Bench, for me Warren Spahn. For the Waner brothers (Paul and Lloyd). For all the people – Allie Reynolds who preceded me, and the Joe Carters, and whoever came out of this state that has played Major League ball as part of this state. Those are the people that you try to focus on to try to lead some of these young kids and get them in the right direction.
I think, of all things, what everything comes down to, when that unveiling comes out, my dad will be pulling that drape down and he’ll be so proud and – the greatest story of my life, is my dad had dreamed of playing Major League baseball.
We read some of the things that he did yesterday. We would sit there on the couch on Saturday afternoon. We’d go get a half gallon of Neapolitan ice cream down at Helms Grocery, and we would sit there on the couch, and we’d watch this game and my dad would be sitting there and Ralph Terry would strike somebody out.
It was a game where the Yankees were playing on Saturday afternoon and my dad would say, “Why hell, I could hit that guy.” Every other pitch. “Why hell, I could hit that guy.”
And I had no doubt that he couldn’t. I really didn’t. I played with him in the backyard and he hit it so far, we never found balls. And we would sit there and he would say, “Ah hell, I could hit that pitcher.”
So I signed (first contract) and I made the first (road) trip when I went to Cincinnati. We made that first trip to St. Louis in 1967 and we faced a pitcher that first night named Bob Gibson, and I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him. (reporters laughed loudly)
We were facing Bob Gibson and I go up there and I strike out the first time. Mom and dad had come up to the game and I strike out the second time, and I strike out the third time.
I’m walking back to the dugout and I get right to the on-deck circle and there you have to go down three or four steps to the dugout and I started to smile and Dave Bristol, who was the manager, he’s like Sergeant Carter. He’s 24-7. He’s nothing but baseball, and he looks at me and says, “What the hell’s so funny,” and I said, “I was just thinkin’. I don’t think dad can hit this guy. Dad’s good but I don’t think even he can hit this guy. I’m pretty good myself and I couldn’t.” (huge laughter from reporters)
Reporter: You mentioned all the players who starred from Oklahoma. What is it about this state that seems to breed great baseball players?
JB: It’s the work ethic, first of all. We learned to work. I think we’re not afraid to work. We’re not afraid of heat. We’re not afraid of going out and going after something and it’s not a fault to say I’ve got to get out of Oklahoma.
It never was any of that. It was just the fact that, you know, I grew up working– pulling cotton at six years old and we’re talking chopping cotton, and chopping peanuts, and driving my dad’s gas truck when I was 15 years old.
I wasn’t afraid of work, so when it came time to get off work, I wasn’t afraid to play hard either and so when I went to play hard, I’d go out and work hard.
I’d work on my game and try to watch that Saturday baseball game and I would try to emulate little tips that they gave you and my dad would tell me what to do. Throw by your ear, quick release, throw long distances on a line, build up your arm, so I just, so for me to go out and say, “that’s what I want to be” is just a work ethic.
And there is a lot of people who support you here. We had people from Binger who would travel around to watch us play. We had people in Anadarko where I played American Legion baseball.
My coach is here today, Cecil Powell. He’ll probably call me a hammer head somewhere again today. Somewhere I’m going to mess up and he’ll call me a hammer head.
He called me that all the time when we played but that’s all right. If you make mistakes, you should know about them so that you can improve and the successful people don’t make the same mistake twice.
SA: And he even likes the Sooners now since they’re National Champions.
JB: Another Hall of Famer, Fergie Jenkins, has joined us. Here we are talking about great Oklahomans and people that mean so much to the state. What a game winner! Was it seven years of 20 wins in a row?
(Jenkins speaks up and says six.) Six? It should have been seven. That Chicago ballpark was so easy to pitch 20-game years in. Everybody could have won 20. (laughs)
SA: Easy Bandbox. (Sparky laughs)
TO: That’s great Johnny. Sparky, thank you very much. We have about 15 minutes if you want to get a couple of individual interviews.
Johnny Bench Statue Dedication Ceremony (followed 30 minutes later)
Southwestern Bell Bricktown Ball Park in Johnny Bench Plaza (Home Plate Entrance) before 800 fans, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Tim O’Toole (TO): Welcome Oklahoma City. I think you should give yourselves a great hand. Thanks to everybody for coming.
There are several people we want to thank and acknowledge here today but I want to tell a brief story and this will be real brief.
About a year after the ballpark opened, I got a phone call from Lee Allan Smith and a lot of you who know Lee Allan know that a lot of times you don’t want to take his phone call because you know what he might be asking for but Lee Allan and I have had the pleasure of having this friendship and working with him through the years so I always enjoy talking to him and the question he had for me,
“Tim, if we could put another statue in the ballpark, what would it be?” and that was a real simple question for me and without hesitation I said, “We need to put Johnny Bench at home plate” and he said “I agree with you 100 percent.”
He said, “I’ll take care of it.” (applause) So he said, “well, if I can take care of the statue, can you take care of the base” and I said, “yes sir, we’ll get it done” so that’s what we’re here for today, to celebrate that and Lee Allan, thank you very much. You’re just a wonderful guy and a great asset to this community. (applause)
I’d like to acknowledge DeMarlo Hale, the manager of the Oklahoma RedHawks. I know he’s back over here somewhere, as well as all his players, the members of the RedHawks team. (applause) Please stand up guys. Thanks so much for coming out. (applause)
And, I’d be remiss, you’re going to see just a wonderful study of human nature and the remarkable character of Johnny Bench here in just a minute and I’d like to just introduce to everyone the sculptor, the man that’s responsible for this, Mr. Paul Moore. (applause)
We have another real special guest here today, another Hall of Famer. He’s not a native Oklahoman but he now makes his home in Oklahoma. I’d like to acknowledge Ferguson Jenkins. Fergie, please stand up. (applause)
It’s not often that you get three Hall of Famers in one place at one time. It’s really a special day.
I’d be remiss in not acknowledging the cooperation of the architectural firm ADG Inc. and, in particular, Steve Matthews and Steve Von Tungeln. I know they’re sitting right over here. (applause)
I also see a good friend, the Boldt Construction Company, which helped us construct this plaza and get everything put in here, and they got the statue put up at the right time and it sure made me nervous when they were doing it. I see Bill White and Brent Morgan over here. Thank you so much guys. You did a great job. (applause)
I’d like to thank Stovall Creative Services for all the work they did on today’s souvenir program. Hopefully all of you got one of those. Also, I would like to thank the City of Oklahoma City. They’re great partners and always help us in everything we do. And, of course, the Oklahoma Heritage Association which helped raise the funds for this event. We thank them all very much.
At this time, on behalf of the City of Oklahoma City, it is my pleasure to introduce our mayor, the honorable Kirk Humphreys. (applause)
Kirk Humphreys (KH) Oklahoma City Mayor: Thanks Tim. I’m the second-most famous Humphreys in this city.
My brother Craig (sports radio personality) is more well known than I am. I told Johnny that when Craig got married 25 years ago, he took his honeymoon to go watch Johnny play baseball in Cincinnati.
Now that’s a real fan. (applause) I want to thank Lee Allan Smith and Tim O’Toole and the RedHawks for conceiving of this idea, dreaming it, raising the money, and making it happen. I want to thank former mayor Ron Norick and these visionary city leaders who, 10 years ago, started thinking about how to bring life back to downtown Oklahoma City. Eight years ago, the people of Oklahoma City approved the Metropolitan Area Projects Plan (MAPS) and it has totally changed our city. I want to thank the voters of Oklahoma City that are here. (applause)
None of that would have happened without a lot of support from city staff and from our City Council. We have a couple of our council members, Willa Johnson, raise or wave your hand. Larry McAtee is back there. Again, I want to thank our City Council. (applause)
MAPS has been such a big success because there’s been a citizens’ oversight board that watched how your dollars were spent. A number of the members of the MAPS Citizens Oversight Board, I believe, are sitting over here. If you’re a member of the MAPS Citizens Oversight Board, please stand up. We want to thank you. (applause)
Now, as Mayor of Oklahoma City, you don’t have a whole lot of authority but you can dream and so I have a dream. A few years ago, we named this Mickey Mantle Boulevard. Well, we could name this stretch from here down to Joe Carter after Johnny Bench. Wouldn’t that be great? (loud applause, cheering). Now, I can’t make that happen but there are some folks at City Hall who can and we’ll try to get that done. Thank you for being here today. (applause, cheering)
TO: That’s a great idea Mayor. You’re the man. That’s wonderful. I love that idea. Okay, at this time, I know we’re going to take care of part of what you’ve all come to see and we want to unveil the statue and I would like to call up the people that are responsible for this and have them to help us go through this.
First of all, Paul. Would you come forward? Paul Moore, please. (applause)
And then Lee Allan Smith and your family. Would you please come forward up here? (applause)
And then, Gene Torbett and your family members. If you’d come up. Gene, thank you. (applause)
Carla and Richard Ellis. Thank you so much. (applause)
Now, Brewer Entertainment, Brent? Come up, please. Bring your family. (applause)
Yes, and I would like to thank and acknowledge Everett L. Gaylord and then the Rainbow family. David, would you please come forward. (applause)
And Mr. Bob Funk and Express Personnel Services. (applause)
Southwestern Bell representatives, Jim Erickson here today? We’d like to thank Southwestern Bell for their support. (applause)
And then the Storey family. James and Jerry, Paul, Katherine, and Scott Storey please. (applause)
And then, Leann Perry, Michael Davis Perry, John Perry. (applause)
Is Randy Smith here somewhere? Randy are you here?
Johnny Bench’s father Ted helped with the unveiling of the statue along with several others named above.
TO: I’d also like to thank and acknowledge the Bill Willis family. I know they’re here. I know Bill’s not here but Willis Granite Products from Granite, Oklahoma, as you get the opportunity to see later, provided this beautiful base here. (applause)
Wow, isn’t that wonderful? That’s spectacular. When we told Johnny and we set the date for the dedication ceremony that was also a real simple thing.
We said, Johnny, who would you like us to ask and he said, well I want my family and my friends from Binger, Oklahoma, to be there and all my friends from Caddo County.
The next person he said, was if you could ask Sparky to come, I’d love it, so we did, and it’s a man who needs no introduction, Hall of Fame manager, Sparky Anderson. (boisterous applause and cheering)
SA: I was just telling Mr. Smith and his family, “can you imagine ever having a statue of yourself. I don’t think any of us will ever know the feeling that John must have right now.”
I know one thing; it gave me the chills. That is unbelievable to think of the job that this man (Paul Moore) did of the sculpture. It’s perfect. It’s when he (Johnny Bench) was young and not how he looks now. (laughing and applause)
I want to say one thing because I heard about it so much on the news and followed it so much and had a chance in January to go see it. (Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial)
You people in Oklahoma City, and all of Oklahoma, must know how all of America will always be so proud of you, what you went through and, for that, and then to have this (motions to statue), it shows you the sun does come out again and you people had so much courage and then to put this up where the sun could shine again.
One of your own from Binger, Oklahoma. To be able to have a monument in front of this stadium. The first thing I thought about, and I know you think about the Mantle statue, but the first thing I thought about was at St. Louis (Busch Memorial Stadium) when we used to go there and the Stan Musial statue was out front and I always said, can you imagine how great you have to be to have a statue made of you.
I am very proud to be in the Hall of Fame but I’m there and I’m not there like this. You know, it’s an in and out. I would have never stepped one foot in the Hall of Fame if it hadn’t been for that little boy from Binger, Oklahoma, who helped carry me, and he was part of it. There were others, but he sure helped carry me. (applause)
He always called me the preacher. He called me John McGraw. You know, at first, when he called me John McGraw, I said, what’s he talking about? That’s the greatest manager that ever managed.
Well, as time was going on, and I was running that Cincinnati club, I said if I can stay here long enough, I might be John McGraw. It was a nice vacation and somebody said to me, “that great year you had a Detroit” and I said “sir, let me remind you of one thing and make sure of this. Had I not made that stop in Cincinnati in 1970, I wouldn’t even have any idea what Detroit looked like” because they were professional and they were as you were supposed to be and today I’m so honored to be here, and the quarterback you had at Oklahoma last year, (Josh Heupel) remember is from South Dakota. I know his mother and father. So, you know what– I got a little bit of help with this Oklahoma club. (applause)
All I ever heard of for nine years was the Sooners from Johnny, the (University of Oklahoma) Sooners. After a while, I was hoping they’d lose, but now I’m back on the right track. It’s Oklahoma all the way and thank you so much. I’ll never forget it to the big boy comes and gets me, that I was here to see John have a statue which he so much deserves. John, come up here. (extended exuberant applause and cheering)
JB: Thank you all. I think I’ve always had something to say (Pause) and I don’t know that I could have ever prepared for something like this.
First of all, to be with so many people that I care about and for so many wonderful people who made this all possible, all of our donors, all of the staff, Lee Allan, all the way down to all of you.
It was all made possible by a belief that I had your support through all my life and that I never wanted to fail any of you.
I had the fear of failure and the failing was not myself but the fact that so many people in Binger and Caddo County and so many people in Oklahoma believed so much in me, that I represented Mickey Mantle and the State of Oklahoma and what it meant to me.
And a father that gave me a bat and a ball and we’d lose and he’d say “That’s all right, we’ll get them tomorrow. Let’s go get a cheeseburger.” And we’d win and “well, let’s go get a cheeseburger.”
He said catching was the quickest way to the Major Leagues and what the Major Leagues needed, but it was learning right from wrong in Binger, Oklahoma, learning that it was meant to be fun but anytime you accept the responsibility you do the very best that you can.
I am humbled. I am in awe. To think that I could have something like this stand here behind me and the only reason Sparky came was to see how many pigeons would actually land on it while I was talking.
This is for all of you. This is for all the young kids of this great state of Oklahoma and America to read at the bottom of this plaque that from a town of 661 people (Binger, Okla.), graduating class of 21, where we’d have to drive around town to find our 8th or 9th player so we could have a team, nothing is impossible.
Everything is possible if, indeed, you believe, and you have a dream, and you’re willing to work, and you’re willing to study.
Being the Valedictorian (Binger-Oney High School) is just as important to me as the All-States and the MVPs and everything else because it meant that I studied and worked and what my responsibilities were.
I can’t thank all of you enough. Timmy (O’Toole), thank you. Thank you, Mayor. Thank Lee Allan again. All of our donors. And please read in your program of all of the people responsible for making this happen.
Thanks for the vision that is coming from all of you, and the City Council to make this great area, and to make it revitalized.
A good friend of mine came down from Cincinnati, and he said “I had no idea. I cannot believe this. This is the last thing I would have expected of Oklahoma City.” And he was so impressed with what the vision of this city is and will be. And I am hoping for all of you an opportunity to shake your hand, and I know there’s a lot of people wanting autographs out there because, they’re all there, and they’re holding up balls, and they’re waving,
I won’t be able to accomplish all of that, but I want you to take an opportunity to enjoy this great game of baseball, what it’s given to me and what it’s given to so many of our people here.
Saw Cot Deal, Cot, where are you?
Cot’s over here. I went to see Cot when I was eight years old. He gave a clinic. What are you, 112 now? Cot Deal and Allie Reynolds, it’s Mickey Mantle, it’s Warren Spahn. It’s Fergie Jenkins living here now. It’s the Waner brothers.
It’s everybody. Think about all our heritage and what I had to follow. It was easy to do. It was easy to be a great player. And then to have the opportunity to play for the great coaches and managers throughout my young career, to be called a hammer head 173 times by coach Powell.
Coach Powell is here somewhere. Coach, where are you?
Right back there. Coach is standing back there. He was my American Legion coach from Anadarko, he was the meanest guy and he was tough and he wanted you to do it the right way and that was the way to do it.
And then I had Sparky Anderson, the greatest manager, I think, that’s ever been on a baseball field (applause). He had to be a great manager because he made us believe he was a great manager and I thought that was very impressive in itself.
And we knew what was going on and yet he still knew more than we did. He was a great man, he’s a great friend, he’s a great mentor, and we should all be that lucky. I thank all of you for joining us today in this hot sun and sharing this.
Do you look forward to the baseball game tonight coach Hale? I know that your ball club has a lot of potential. A lot of opportunities for the young players, and if they believe and focus it is all possible. Sometimes, and Fergie (Jenkins) will tell you, you walk out there and just everything becomes natural. All of a sudden, the ball slows down and all of a sudden, you’re swinging and hitting the ball. There’s not that pressure. There’s a confidence within you.
I thank all of you again. I appreciate this day to no end. I cannot tell you how humbled I am to be a part of this and to stand before this great statue. Paul (Moore, sculptor), thank you. Thank you for giving me what I can’t ever relive.
TO: Great guy. Thank you, Johnny. Thank you so much. Sparky, thank you. Thank all of you fans for coming. We love you.
The home plate entrance will be closed for a while, while we’re emptying the tents. If you’ve got tickets to the ball game you can go through the entrance on that side or back around to the other entrance. Thanks again for coming.
It’s a great day. DeMarlo (Hale), it’s up to you now. And guys, go win a game tonight. If the donors will come forward, we would like to take some photographs with Johnny and Sparky up here.
Thank you. Thanks again. Have a great evening.
Transcription By: © 2001 Darl DeVault, volunteer Oklahoma Sports Museum publicist at the time.
Notes: Ballpark began as named above and has been renamed as SBC Bricktown Ballpark, AT&T Bricktown Ballpark, RedHawks Field at Bricktown, Newcastle Field at Bricktown and is now Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, home of the Oklahoma City Dodgers Triple A team.