HUNTINGTON — Johnny Bench said the Boston Red Sox $228 million payroll of 2019 wouldn’t be nearly enough to pay the 1976 Cincinnati Reds if the Big Red Machine played today.
“No one could afford it,” Bench said of what it would take to pay the powerhouse club that won World Series championships in 1975 and 1976 behind Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and others. “Pete would get $30 million a year. Joe would get $30 million. I’d get $30 million. No club could do that. They’d ship you out.”
Add in salaries of fellow starters Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, George Foster, Cesar Geronimo and Ken Griffey, along with the pitching staff and reserves,and Bench said the payroll would be more than any club would be willing to pay.
On Monday, the hall of fame catcher said he will discuss baseball and more when he speaks as part of the Marshall Artists Series at 8 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center. During “An Evening with Johnny Bench,” the 14-time all-star and winner of 10 Gold Glove Awards will talk about what he calls “The Vowels of Success,” drawing parallels between the worlds of sports, entertainment, and civic involvement.
Bench’s highest annual salary during his 17-year career was $400,000, which is $150,000 less than the Major League Baseball minimum salary today. The advent of free agency after the 1976 season sent salaries soaring, but also virtually guaranteed no club ever will be assembled that would match the Big Red Machine and its bevy of Hall of Fame-caliber players.
Bench, 71, played from 1967 through 1983. He said he supports free agency, even if it meant the demise of the 1970s Reds.
“The guy in the stands on his fifth job complaining about it has to remember he’s a free agent, too,” Bench said. “If someone comes along and offers him a better job and more money, he’s probably going to take it.”
Bench, who hit 389 home runs, drove in 1,376 runs, batted .267, reached base at a .342 clip and slugged .476, undoubtedly would land a monstrous contract today based only on those stats. Add in that he threw out 43 percent of attempted base stealers and was masterful defensively, and his pay likely would dwarf that of today’s highest-paid catcher, San Francisco’s Buster Posey at $22 million annually.
Bench said players need to be smart about choosing their free agent destinations. He used San Diego’s Manny Machado and Philadelphia’s Bryce Harper as examples. Machado signed for $30 million over 10 years. Harper inked a 13-year, $330 million deal.
“Look at Machado,” Bench said. “If the federal government takes 20 percent of that and the State of California takes 13 percent, that’s close to $100 million. Harper pays the feds 20 percent, but the state of Pennsylvania 3 percent and comes out a lot better. All that money and the IRS hasn’t hit a ball yet.”
Bench said he enjoys watching baseball and is having fun with the postseason, which features the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals in the National League and Houston Astros and New York Yankees in the American League.
“I watched more games this year than I have in a while” Bench said. “People ask me who is going to win. I honestly couldn’t tell you. There are so many teams who could win it.”