He was a key member of the Reds' 1975 and 1976 World Series championship teams known as "The Big Red Machine"'.
Bench was a standout basketball player for Binger High School in addition to his baseball talents. His father advised him that the fastest route to the majors was being a catcher. He was drafted in the second round of the 1965 amateur draft and was called up in August, 1967 where he hit just .163, but impressed many with his defensive prowess and strong throwing arm. Among those he impressed during his first taste of Major League ball was Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who signed a baseball for him: "A Hall of Famer for sure!"
In addition to being an outstanding fielder, Bench was also a great hitter, batting .267 with 389 home runs with 1,376 runs-batted-in during his 17-year Major League career, all spent with the Reds. His career home run by a catcher record stood until surpassed by the Chicago White Sox's Carlton Fisk. The San Diego Padres' Mike Piazza has since broken the record and is still an active player.
He won the 1968 National League Rookie of the Year, batting .275 with 15 home runs and 82 RBI's, and the honors and accomplishments only continued to pile up. In his career, Bench earned 10 Gold Gloves, was the 1970 and 1972 Most Valuable Player and was named to the National League All-Star team 12 times. He also won such awards as the Lou Gehrig Award (1975), the Babe Ruth Award (1976), and the Hutch Award (1981).
Although baseball history is filled with many outstanding catchers, such as Yogi Berra and Mickey Cochrane, arguably, no player revolutionized the position like Johnny Bench. The catcher's equipment was traditionally called "the tools of ignorance" as many catchers were converted from other positions or lacked the fielding skills to play elsewhere. But Bench inspired many young ballplayers to become catchers. His use of the hinged catcher's mitt, which many thought was a gimmick when he first used one (after injuring his throwing hand, Bench had a custom hinged mitt made to replace the traditional rigid trapper-style mitt, which allowed him to tuck his throwing arm safely to the side), became standard equipment within a few years. Bench's one handed catching style soon became a commonplace throughout baseball, both professional and amateur. He also tended to block breaking balls in the dirt by scooping them with one hand instead of the fundamentally taught drop to both knees.
However, by 1978, the years behind the plate began taking their toll on Bench's knees, a common ailment for catchers, and for the last three years of his career, he played mostly third base or first base with the occasional start in the outfield while catching only 13 games. During his final game on September 29, 1983, proclaimed "Johnny Bench Night" at Riverfront Stadium, he hit his 389th and final home run.
Bench was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York in 1989, appearing on 96% of the ballots — the third-highest ever.
He was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 1986 and had his #5 retired.
In 1999, he ranked Number 16 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, the highest-ranking catcher, and was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
Starting with the 2000 college baseball season, the best collegiate catcher annually receives the Johnny Bench Award.
In his post-playing career, Bench has broadcast games on television and radio and is an avid golfer. He has performed in several Champions Tour tournaments.