He was still a teenager playing ball a long way from home but even in 1967, the Cincinnati Reds knew they had their catcher of the future in Johnny Bench. If you were a fan of the Buffalo Bisons 50 years ago, you witnessed the earliest professional moments of the player many believe is the greatest player at his position in baseball history.
Reproduced photos from Bench’s months in Buffalo are fairly common but the RMY Auctions Photo of the Day is an original image from May of 1967. The 8×10 black and white shot shows the 19-year-old Oklahoma native chatting with pitcher Dick Stigman after the Bisons’ hurler stuck out 13 en route to a win in the early part of the season. It’s the only known original image of its kind in the hobby.
Bench had been drafted 36th overall by the Reds in 1965 and spent part of 1966 and ’67 with Buffalo, which played its home games at War Memorial Stadium.
Stigman, too, went on to a big league career, but Bench would play in the big leagues for parts of three decades, becoming a two-time National League MVP and World Series hero. Just three months after this photo was taken, Bench made his big league debut for the Cincinnati Reds. He would win the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1968. Ted Williams had seen enough of the young catcher to sign a baseball for him, inscribed with “a Hall of Famer for sure!”
The photo is one of over 1,000 sports, history and entertainment photos in RMY’s March Premier Auction.