As a huge Johnny Bench fan (at 13, I was lucky enough to be on hand in Cooperstown for his National Baseball Hall of Fame induction weekend) unable to attend Johnny Bench Night on Saturday, the silver lining was sitting down Sunday night and watching the hour-long Reds Live from Johnny Bench Night that I had DVR’ed. Let me start by saying I was very impressed with what Fox Sports Ohio did with this hour. I’d imagine their goal was to allow people who couldn’t make it to feel like they didn’t miss it after all. And that’s exactly what they achieved. It was a great hour of TV for a Reds fan.
In case you missed it because you were at the ballpark and/or didn’t get to DVR it, here were some highlights:
Most awkward moment: Johnny is making his speech on the field before the game. The guy doesn’t appear to have any notes, but when you’ve got the public speaking ability that Johnny Bench has, you don’t need notes. A couple of minutes into the speech, he says, “The one thing I asked when this statue was going to be constructed was that it also had to include a caveat that following me would be – not in this order – Pete, Joe and Tony.”
Which gets big applause from the fired-up crowd.
And immediately the camera zooms in on Davey Concepcion.
Of course Concepcion smiled and applauded as the incredibly gracious and modest individual he is. And the show’s director/producer/camera folks probably had no idea exactly what Johnny was going to say there (I’m pretty sure only Johnny knows what Johnny is about to say.) But for the love of, um, Pete … zoom in on Bob Castellini right at that moment. Show the crowd. Show that group of people who donated to the Bench statue fund. Heck, show Doug Flynn. ANYONE but the guy who could stake a claim to having been the fifth Beatle for years. It was just a hair painful, knowing that Concepcion should absolutely be a National Hall of Famer and will undoubtedly be deserving of a statue as well. (And we’re going to need a George Foster statue eventually as well. C’mon, people, how many guys can lead the league in RBIs in three consecutive seasons.)
Awkward honorable mention: Hal McCoy, on the set of Reds Live with Jim Day and Brian Giesenschlag, offers the following anecdote when asked if Johnny has mellowed:
“Very much so. He came in the clubhouse yesterday and he saw me across the room and he yelled, “Hall of Famer!” … came over, shook my hand, gave me a hug and I turned to somebody when he left and said, ‘He just said more words to me right there than he said in an entire season sometimes.'”
Awkward honorable mention No. 2: Jim Day asks Hal McCoy about how Bench and Pete Rose have mended fences and McCoy explains how great it is that their relationship has improved so much. Which begs the question: Why wasn’t Pete on hand for any of Saturday’s festivities? Anyone know his alibi?
That’s a fact, Jack: Johnny is referred to repeatedly (most often, I believe, by emcee Joe Zerhusen during the on-field ceremony) as the greatest catcher of all-time. I may have missed it but I don’t think Bench was referred to even once during the show as one of the greatest catchers of all time. I just find that interesting … how certain everyone is and how no one wants to acknowledge that Johnny may be among a very elite group of three or four catchers who could stake a claim to being the greatest ever.
Did I blink and miss it? At the start of the show, they promised a “live visit” with statue designer Tom Tsuchiya. (Not to be confused, by the way, with MLB umpire Tim Tschida.) They teased it again later. Totally missed it. Did my DVR just not pick it up? Was it after 7 p.m. that it aired?
Unintentional comedy: Jim Day starts the show talking about the buzz in the air for Johnny Bench Night and the big crowd on hand, and there are like 50 people in the hundreds of seats behind him. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that JD did a great job co-hosting this show.)
Goosebumps: Joe Nuxhall calling Bench’s home run on Johnny Bench Night in 1983. They showed it twice – once during the show coming out of a commercial break and again on the video board during the pre-game ceremony on the field. Goosebumps, both times.
Really??: When they introduced everyone who was sitting on the field for the pre-game ceremony, what was with the one guy who starting booing his ace off when they introduced Mayor Mark Mallory? It would have been one thing if everyone had started booing (clearly there is not enough animosity for a guy who will forever be remembered for this) but, to me, it sounded like one guy just started booing very loudly by himself. I’m gonna call that a #fail. #failboo
Best intentional comedy: Johnny is known for his sense of humor. The guy can be downright goofy. And he reached into his bag of tricks on several occasions during the pre-game ceremonies. The funniest? He set it up this way:
“Very seldom does anyone ever embarrass the Big Red Machine, but sometimes it happens.”
Cue this video of Joe Morgan doing the Chicken Dance on the video board.
It’s like I kind of saw it coming but the way Johnny set it up was pretty laugh-out-loud outstanding. And he followed up with, “All of that just to sell a car.” Zing!
Just Johnny being Johnny: You’d have to have seen it to know how strange and borderline awkward it was but Johnny took the time at the end of his speech during the on-field ceremony to recognize what an outstanding season the Brewers have had, wishing them well, he jokingly said, in the event that the Reds don’t catch them this season. Ouch. Kind of a sore subject, Johnny. Maybe he knew what a pounding the Brewers were going to administer on Saturday and figured the current Reds deserved that. Which, right now, you’d have to agree they do deserve.