One of the top 10 plays of the first half of the 2023 Major League Baseball season was Cincinnati rookie Elly De La Cruz stealing three bases in a span of two pitches, making the Milwaukee Brewers look rather inept.

ESPN did not rank that one No. 1 in its Top 10 plays, which was an error. You simply never see a player do what Cruz did in that game against Milwaukee, and it is already a part of Cincinnati Reds lore.

That lore is long and historic. The Reds have been around longer than any other National League team, and their rich and storied history features a roster of great catchers that includes Johnny Bench, who was on the active roster and was a regular but did not play in 1966 for the minor league Peninsula Greys when Satchel Paige, one season after becoming the oldest player ever to appear in a major league game, threw several innings at age 60.

You want Reds minor league trivia? Well, there you go.

Who are the catchers for the Reds this 2023 MLB season?

The Reds depth chart lists Tyler Stephenson, Luke Maile and Curt Casali, in that order, as their three best backstops. Stephenson came out of the All-Star break ranked eighth on the team with a .254 average along with seven homers and 37 RBIs. He is the backstop for a bullpen that came out of the All-Star break leading the NL with 34 saves.

Cincinnati Reds Catchers History

When you are looking at a team with a history as extensive as Cincinnati’s, there are 10 players who entered Cooperstown wearing a Reds cap, and 24 others who spent part of their career with the Reds or the Red Stockings but also spent time with other franchises. But Bench is the only one who spent 162 or 154 games behind the plate with a catcher’s mitt, which makes for a ratio that Pythagorus would have trouble with. And such is life as a catcher, one of the most underappreciated positions in baseball. Only 26 catchers are enshrined in Cooperstown.

Famous Cincinnati Reds Catchers

There is no more famous catcher in Cincinnati history than Johnny Bench, who was the backstop for the Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s. Bench, from Oklahoma City, is widely considered the greatest catcher in Major League Baseball history, twice leading the National League in home runs and three times in runs batted in. He caught 100 or more games for 13 consecutive seasons and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986.

Who was the famous catcher from the Cincinnati Reds?

The height of Johnny Bench’s popularity came in 1976 when the Reds played the Yankees in the World Series with Cincinnati winning in a four-game sweep. At the press conference following Game 4, Reds manager Sparky Anderson was asked by a journalist to compare Yankees All-Star catcher Thurman Munson with his catcher. Anderson replied, "I don't want to embarrass any other catcher by comparing him to Johnny Bench.” In 1989, Bench became the first individual baseball player to appear on a Wheaties box. 

Ranking the Top 10 Greatest Cincinnati Reds Catchers of all time

  1. Smoky Burgess

Years with Reds: 1955 to 1958
Career Stats with Reds: .290 batting average, 52 HRs, 186 RBIs
Honors and Awards: National League All-Star (1954 with Philadelphia), (1955, 1959 with Reds), (1960, 1961, 1964 with Pittsburgh)

A native of Caroleen, N.C., Smoky Burgess spent only four seasons of his 18-year career with Cincinnati but was named to the Reds Hall of Fame. On July 29, 1955, Burgess hit three home runs and had nine RBIs during a game against the Pirates. His Major League Baseball record of 145 career pinch hits was broken by Manny Mota in 1979. When his career ended, Burgess worked as a scout for the Atlanta Braves.

  1. Ray Mueller

Years with Reds: 1943 to 1949
Career Stats with Reds:
.266 batting average, 33 HRs, 221 RBIs
Honors and Awards: National League All-Star (1944)

Ray Mueller, a native of Pittsburg, Kan., was nicknamed “Iron Man” because he caught every Reds game from July 31, 1943, through the end of the 1944 season -- a total of 233. He caught Clyde Shoun’s no-hitter against Boston on May 15, 1944. Mueller ended his career with a .988 fielding percentage, which was eight points higher than the league average during his playing career.

  1. Tommy Clarke

Years with Reds: 1909 to 1917
Career Stats with Reds:
.265 batting average, 6 HRs, 191 RBIs

The New York City native won a World Series as a coach with the Giants in 1933 after leaving the Reds, where he had a colorful history. Clarke was suspended late in the 1915 season for violating a clause in his contract that prohibited him from drinking. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Clarke said he’d get manager Buck Herzog. The Enquirer reported that Herzog “said he’d meet him Sunday night after the last game at any time, any place and any circumstance and battle it out.”

  1. Ivey Wingo

Years with Reds: 1915 to 1926, 1929
Career Stats with Reds: .257 batting average, 17 HRs, 347 RBIs

Ivey Wingo, a Gainsville, Ga., native, spent the last 13 years of his 17-year playing career with the Reds. He also managed the Reds for two games during the 1916 season and started three of eight games in the best-of-9 1919 World Series, which the Reds won for the first of their five World Series championships. Wingo played for the Reds until 1926, then continued with the team as a coach before getting in one final major league appearance on the last day of the 1929 season.

  1. Johnny Edwards

Years with Reds: 1961 to 1967
Career Stats with Reds: .246 batting average, 53 HRs, 296 RBIs
Honors and Awards: National League All-Star (1963, 1964, 1965), Gold Glove Award (1963, 1964)

Johnny Edwards’ offensive numbers diminished after he suffered a broken finger on the last day of spring training in 1966, but he continued to be one of the best defensive catchers in the majors. The Columbus, Ohio, native was the guy the Reds traded away to make room for Johnny Bench. During the offseason, he worked as an engineer for General Electric with a specialty in development of nuclear fuel elements.

  1. Ryan Hanigan

Years with Reds: 2007 to 2013
Career Stats with Reds: .262 batting average, 20 HRs, 138 RBIs

The Washington, D.C., native was especially appreciated by pitchers for his game-calling skills. In 2012, which saw Cincinnati win 97 games and the National League Central Division title, Hanigan was behind the plate when the team’s pitching staff ranked third in the NL in ERA (3.34) and its bullpen had the lowest ERA in the majors (2.65).

  1. Bubbles Hargrave

Years with Reds: 1921 to 1928
Career Stats with Reds: .314 batting average, 29 HRs, 359 RBIs

He played eight of his 12 seasons for the Reds and had a .314 average over 766 games with Cincinnati. He hit .300 or better in six consecutive seasons, including .353 to win the batting title in 1926. A New Haven, Ind., native, Eugene Franklin Hargrave was nicknamed “Bubbles” because he stuttered when using the letter “B.”

  1. Ed Bailey

Years with Reds: 1953 to 1961
Career Stats with Reds: .261 batting average, 94 HRs, 316 RBIs
Honors and Awards: National League All-Star (1956, 1957, 1960, 1961), 1963 (with San Francisco)

Ed Bailey, from Strawberry Plains, Tenn., began the 1956 season with Cincinnati as the backup catcher to Smoky Burgess, but when the team faltered early in the season, Reds manager Birdie Tebbetts decided to shake things up and named Bailey the starting catcher. By mid-season, Bailey was the leading hitter in the National League with a .335 batting average, which helped him earn the starting spot on the 1956 NL All-Star team.

  1. Ernie Lombardi

Years with Reds: 1932 to 1941
Career Stats with Reds: .311 batting average, 120 HRs, 682 RBIs
Honors and Awards: National League All-Star (1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940), 1942 (with Boston), 1943, 1945 (with N.Y. Giants), Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (1986)

The only catcher to ever win two batting titles, Ernie Lombardi, the 1938 NL Most Valuable Player, batted .311 with 120 homers over 1,203 games for Cincinnati. The Oakland, Calif., native was behind the plate for both of pitcher Johnny Vander Meer’s back-to-back no-hitters and was a member of two pennant-winning clubs, including the 1940 World Series champions.

  1. Johnny Bench

Years with Reds: 1967 to 1983
Career Stats with Reds:
.267 batting average, 389 HRs, 1,386 RBIs
Honors and Awards: National League All-Star (1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1983), NL MVP (1970, 1972), NL Rookie of the Year (1968), Gold Glove Award (1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977), Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (1989)

There really is no debate here, and Johnny Bench is a case study in the value of listening to your father (who told him that playing catcher was the quickest path to the majors). Bench is a member of MLB’s All-Century team and the Reds Hall of Fame, where his jersey No. 5 is retired.

Did you know? Johnny Bench is one of only three catchers to win two MVP awards, and his 10 Gold Gloves are second to only Ivan Rodriguez. Find out which players had the Top 10 rookie seasons in Cincinnati Reds history.

Parameters of Ranking Look, when you are dealing with a player whose legacy is as strong as Johnny Bench’s, compiling this list of great Reds catchers is just a matter of properly ranking Nos. 2 through 10.

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