"Only half my life is over, and I want the second half to be just as fulfilling as the first half. I want to play golf and tennis, hunt and fish. But I see guys like Randy Hundley and Tom Haller hobbling around because they caught too much. I don't want to be like that."
Bench is really the Reds' last hero. Although attendance in Cincinnati was a healthy 2,002,450 last year, it has been slipping gradually from a record 2,629,708 in 1976. First Perez went (1976), then Rose ('78), then Morgan ('80), and the Reds haven't been in the Series since 1976—they can't afford to lose Bench, in the stands or on the field. As Collins says, "We need J.B., his leadership, his experience, his hitting." Yes, he can still hit: 24 homers and 68 RBIs in only 360 at bats last year.
Bench's decision, though, has divided not only the team but the fans as well. The Dayton area supplies much of the crowd at Riverfront Stadium, and Dayton's The Journal Herald asked its readers two weeks ago: yes or no, should the Reds honor Johnny Bench's request to catch only twice a week? The results were split down the middle. In fact, there were 297 affirmatives and 297 negatives with only three votes left to be counted. They all turned out to be yes.
Typical of the nay-sayers was the anonymous fan who tacked this note onto his ballot: "He signed a contract to catch for the Reds. Now he can catch until his contract runs out. Then he can take his two-day crap to Yankee George."
Then there was the opinion of a Bench warmer: "I hope John gets to spend the rest of his life doing whatever he wants to do. He has already given so much of his super talent to the game. If the Reds lose J.B., there will be little if any reason to spend time and money at Riverfront Stadium."