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The Bench

This is my favorite Johnny Bench card from the 1970s. It's probably my favorite Bench card of any year. But there seems to be some disagreement over the best '70s Bench card. Commenter Eric on a previous post said he'd take the 1973 Bench card over this 1976 card any day.

Any day? I was shocked. How could anyone dispute the greatness of the 1976 card? Bench looks like he just stepped out of a desert battle in the Sahara! It is so cool.

But I thought I'd let everyone decide which 1970s Bench card was the best of the decade. Bench, at least in my eyes as a kid, was the most revered player in baseball during the '70s. More than Rose, Schmidt, Jackson, Carew or even Seaver. So his cards from that period meant a great deal then.

I'm going to show each of the Topps cards of Bench from the '70s. The poll is up on the sidebar. So vote!

(Full disclosure: All of these cards, except the 1972 card, are mine. I borrowed the '72 image because I don't have that card. The 1970 card is not the actual card -- it's one of those 50th anniversary cards --but it's the same in every way except for the gold-foil stamp).

1970 Bench: You have to like the requisite catcher's pose shot, but Bench is going to lose some fingers on his right hand catching like that.

1971 Bench: Here is wistful Johnny, looking to the horizon. Not a great shot.

1972 Bench: Your standard batter's pose. I don't know what else to say.

1973 Bench: OK, there are a couple of cool things about this card. First, it's one of those distant action shots from the early '70s that would never fly today, but is quirky and great. The shot of the ball landing in Bench's glove as he prepares to cradle it is a coup for the photographer (is Bench about to kill himself stepping on that glove?). But I hate that you can't see his face in the shot.

1974 Bench: Nice action, which is something we craved as kids. Bench is "sprinting" out of the box. But the photo almost looks like a painting. The '74 design that matched the team's colors worked well with the Reds cards.

1975 Bench: One of the most important cards of my childhood. Everyone wanted this card during the first year I collected cards. I've mentioned before that I was afraid to hold it, for fear that it would spontaneously combust.

1976 Bench: To quote Mr. Billy Ocean: "simply awesome."

1977 Bench: Bench was pretty much an icon by now, even though he had a subpar '76 season. I guess Topps figured they could take a super close-up shot of him batting. But it disappointed us kids.

1978 Bench: This one also disappointed us. Two straight static shots of Bench. Ugh.

1979 Bench: Now that's more like it. But this card was double-printed, so we saw it a lot and we started to get tired of it.

That's the end of the decade. Let the Bench-off begin!


Matt Runyon said…
1974 (this one is close but the '76 is a classic)
1975 (for the same reasons Night Owl likes it)
1973 (I rank it lower since I don't like cards of players' rear ends)
Ohh...'76 Bench versus '73 Bench...I couldn't choose. The '76 is all-time great, as in I can't think of a single other card where the guy looks so outright sinister. Could have been a shot of Vader in the Carbon Freezing Chamber from Empire, but it's Bench on a ballfield. Incredible!

By comparison, the '73 is a much more standard, awesome baseball card for the reasons you gave.

You should do a poll! Fight!
Matt Runyon said…
It would be cool to do this type of poll for other 70s stars as well. Cards could include Stargell, Seaver, Carew, Rose, Jackson, Palmer, Morgan, Carlton, Ryan, Yastrzemski, the list goes on and on.
Captain Canuck said…
#1 '76
#2 '75 (close)
#3 '70

the others pale in comparison.
night owl said…

I do have a poll! It's up!
Hackenbush said…
I'll go with the 1971 wistful look. In the 1970 card Johnny looks like he's wearing pinstriped footy pajamas.
My bad, I'm a little slow at the end of the day!
Unknown said…
Night Owl: Thank you for my 15 minutes of fame! It is an honor. Here's further background on my choice: I had asthma as a kid. One day in 73 I walked to the corner store, bought a pack, and pulled that Bench. Ran all the way home screaming and triggered an attack. My mom was pissed. I'll never forget it. I almost died for that card! Bottom line...they are all great, Johnny is great, and I don't have asthma anymore. Let the voting begin!
Fuji said…
Great review of the great Mr. Bench. I love these kind of articles... just like the 80's Topps design battle started by Dinged Corners. Here's my 2 cents:

1st - 1970
2nd - 1975
3rd - 1976
4th -1974
5th - 1973
I'm giving the '76 a slight nod over the '73. Normally I don't want a back to the camera shot, but that is a great picture. Catcher cards are my favorites and that shot of Bench surrounded by dust on the '76 is one of my favorites--it does make him look like Pigpen from the old Charlie Brown cartoons, but that epitomizes what catchers are all about, down and dirty. Great poll Night Owl.
Andy said…
The thing I love about the 73 card is the way the guy in the dugout (from the opposing team) is sitting with his hands folded as if nothing interesting is happening. It's an old-school rule in baseball that if an opposing player is trying to catch a foul pop near the dugout, you don't help him if he loses his balance. If he slips on your dugout steps and breaks his ankle (Castillo-style) so be it. I just love that the guy is going to such great lengths to totally ignore Bench.
Eggrocket said…
For me the 1976 Bench isn't just the best Bench card... it's the greatest card of all time. 1976 was my first hardcore year collecting and Bench was my favorite player on my favorite team (sorry Night Owl ... I HAVE learned to love the Dodgers in recent years, however). I worked so hard to get the 76 Bench. Daniel across the street had it but he wouldn't take ANYTHING in a trade. What a chump. Finally pulling that card was the biggest thrill of my collecting youth. Nothing beats that card. Nothing. Well, maybe one, but that's another story. (1973 Topps #1 All-time HR leaders ... Ruth, Aaron and Mays on the SAME CARD).

1976 Topps Bench ... greatest card of the greatest catcher we've ever seen.