Johnny Bench could have ended his playing career as a member of the Cardinals, but turned down the chance.
In June 1983, the Cardinals contacted the Reds with a trade offer for Bench. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cardinals were willing to send first baseman Keith Hernandez to the Reds for Bench and starting pitcher Frank Pastore.
Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog envisioned playing Bench at first base and third base against left-handed pitching. “We inquired about Bench,” Herzog confirmed to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Bench, 35, was the Opening Day third baseman for the Reds in 1983 and Alex Trevino was the catcher. Bench was destined for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a catcher, but hadn’t played the position regularly since 1980. Bench was a Reds first baseman in 1981 and their third baseman in 1982.
On June 10, 1983, Bench said he would retire from playing after the season. When Bench informed Reds management of his decision, “he was asked if he would consider going to another club,” the Dayton Daily News reported.
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “They offered him the chance to continue his career with the St. Louis Cardinals.”
Reds general manager Dick Wagner explained to Bench that the Cardinals had called with the trade offer. The Cardinals were the defending World Series champions and were contending again in 1983, leading the East Division on June 10. The Reds were in last place in the West.
Joining the Cardinals would enable Bench to be involved in a pennant chase in his final season, but he “politely declined,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
“I wouldn’t sacrifice my association with Cincinnati to go to St. Louis for two or three months,” said Bench, who played his entire career with the Reds.
Later that season, when Bench and Herzog exchanged lineup cards before a game, Herzog said Bench asked, “Just where did you plan to use me if you got me?” Herzog replied, “We’d been vulnerable to left-handed pitching. I’d have used you against them.”
Herzog was looking to trade Keith Hernandez because the relationship between the two had deteriorated. Herzog said Hernandez was loafing during games.
Bench appealed to Herzog because of his ability to play multiple positions and he could hit. A right-handed batter with power, Bench hit .282 in April and .298 in May for the 1983 Reds.
“He has given me everything he has,” Reds manager Russ Nixon told The Sporting News. “He’s one veteran who has run out every ground ball.”
If the Cardinals had obtained Bench, Herzog could play him at first base against left-handers, and shift Dane Iorg or Andy Van Slyke from the outfield to first base versus right-handers. Bench also could play third base against left-handers, substituting for Ken Oberkfell, a left-handed batter. in 1983, Bench batted .284 versus left-handers.
The Cardinals wanted Frank Pastore in the deal to add to a starting rotation with Joaquin Andujar, Bob Forsch, John Stuper and Dave LaPoint. “We’ve been talking about him since spring training,” Herzog told the Post-Dispatch.
Pastore was 5-0 versus the Cardinals in his career.
Keith Hernandez would have provided a significant upgrade to the Reds in the field and at the plate. Dan Driessen (.277) ended up leading the 1983 Reds in batting and Ron Oester had the most RBI (58).
When Bench turned down the Cardinals, they traded Hernandez to the Mets for pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. Herzog moved George Hendrick from right field to first base for the remainder of the season.
Three months after the trade talk, the Reds were in St. Louis for the final time that season. Before the series finale on Sept. 4, Cardinals players presented Bench with a gold-plated golf putter as a retirement gift. Cardinals management gave him a plaque featuring an illustration by Post-Dispatch artist Amadee.
In the eighth inning, the Cardinals led, 4-1, when the Reds got two runners on base with one out against Joaquin Andujar. Bruce Sutter relieved and fanned Gary Redus for the second out. Rookie right fielder Dallas Williams was up next, but Bench was sent to bat for him.
Bench swung at Sutter’s first pitch, a split-fingered fastball, and pulled it into foul territory along the line in left.
As left fielder Lonnie Smith gave a futile chase, Cardinals catcher Glenn Brummer yelled, “Catch the ball, catch the ball,” Bench said to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
“(Brummer) told me, ‘You’ll hit that pitch out if you get it again,’ ” Bench recalled.
Sutter’s next delivery was another split-fingered pitch and Bench slammed it over the wall in left for a three-run home run, tying the score at 4-4.
“When I crossed the plate,” Bench said, “I told (Brummer), ‘You were right.’ “
The Cardinals came back with a run in the ninth and won, 5-4, but the story of the game was Bench’s home run in his final Busch Memorial Stadium plate appearance. Boxscore
The home run was the 388th of his career. It was Bench’s only hit versus the Cardinals in 10 at-bats against them that year. For his career, Bench hit .247 versus the Cardinals with 24 home runs and 85 RBI. Those were the fewest home run and RBI totals he had versus any team.
On Sept. 17, when the Reds held Johnny Bench Night at Riverfront Stadium, Bench started at catcher in a game for the final time. In the third inning, he hit his last home run, a two-run shot against the Astros’ Mike Madden. Boxscore and Video