When this season ends, so will his playing days, Third Baseman Johnny Bench, 35, of the Reds announced last week. "I want to be remembered as the greatest catcher who ever played," said Bench, who hasn't caught regularly since 1980. "I wanted that when I was 19 years old."
Bench certainly has the credentials: He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1968 and its MVP in 1970 and '72; he won 10 straight Gold Gloves and has hit 383 homers—a record 324 of them as a catcher. Bench's 1983 batting average of .271 through Sunday was three points higher than his 15-year career figure.
"I decided about three weeks ago, even though I was hitting .320 and the ball club had shown signs of progress, that it wasn't as much fun," said Bench. He felt he could no longer play the game "to the degree that I expect of myself and that a lot of people expect of me. Knowing I wasn't the Johnny Bench of the past in a lot of respects, I felt this was the time to finish up." Before he leaves, though, Bench says he'll take his familiar position behind the plate at least one more time.
Montreal's Bryan Little may be the only big-leaguer ever to stand on both sides of the plate in one at bat and not finish up the plate appearance. After San Francisco righthander Fred Breining threw two balls to Little, Giants lefthander Gary Lavelle was brought in. Little switched to batting righthanded, fouled off two sacrifice bunt tries and was replaced by Pinch Hitter Jim Wohlford, who flied out.
After 3,256 at bats in the big leagues, the Yankees' Steve Kemp was pulled for a pinch hitter last week. With the score 5-5 and one out and two on in the ninth against Cleveland lefty Neal Heaton, Manager Billy Martin sent up righthand-hitting Lou Piniella, who drove in the game-winning run.
"It was an awkward feeling," said Kemp, who has struggled at the plate since severely bruising his right shoulder in an outfield collision the first Saturday of the season. Kemp was hitting .244 when Piniella batted for him.
"You know, after I had established myself and after I had faced so many lefties in my career doing it, I thought there was a chance that I could do something that a whole lot of players don't do. I thought I could go through my career without being pinch-hit for. But with the Yankees having so much talent, it really helped soften the situation. Obviously, Billy did the right thing."
By homering and singling during his 11-5 win over the Braves last week, Dodger Pitcher Fernando Valenzuela stretched his hitting streak to six games and raised his average to .289.... Twice recently Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda has had to notify players that their father had died. On June 6 the sad news was for Shortstop Bill Russell, three days later for brothers Steve and Dave Sax.... After being thrown out of a big league game for the first time, Mariner Manager Rene Lachemann apologized thrice to umpires Steve Palermo and Dave Phillips and said they were the two best umpires in the American League. Lachemann has a special appreciation for umps, having worked as an attendant in the umpires' dressing room at Dodger Stadium as a kid.... The Expos, who allowed 78 unearned runs last season—an average of almost one every other game—have improved their defense so much that at week's end they had given up only 15 in 55 games this year. That's by far the best such figure in both leagues.... After Ryne Sandberg of the Cubs began using teammate Larry Bowa's bats, which are half an inch shorter and half an ounce lighter than his own, he promptly hit in 13 of 15 games and drove in 11 runs.
Toronto Reliever Stan Clarke's major league debut was a clinker. On the lefthander's very first pitch, Rickey Henderson of the A's stole second. On his fourth delivery Clarke balked. On his fifth, Henderson streaked for home as Mike Davis laid down a bunt. Clarke slipped as he came off the mound toward the ball, bobbled it and lost his cap. Henderson scored, but at least Clarke threw out Davis. Then, after loading the bases on two walks and a single, Clarke was yanked.
The trade of Centerfielder Gorman Thomas to Cleveland by defending American League champion Milwaukee last week was highly unpopular with Brewer fans. On the day of the deal—Thomas and pitchers Jamie Easterly and Ernie Camacho were sent to the Indians for Centerfielder Rick Manning and Pitcher Rick Waits—the Brewer switchboard logged 1,620 calls. About 80% of the callers complained about the swap. Thomas, a two-time American League home run champ, had become almost a folk hero during his six seasons there.