Cincinnati's Johnny Bench called it his greatest thrill in baseball, better than being selected the National League MVP on two occasions or the World Series MVP in 1976, even better than winning 10 consecutive Gold Gloves. What brought Bench to this pinnacle of exhilaration was the home run that moved him ahead of Yogi Berra as baseball's most prolific home run-hitting catcher. the blast, his 314th while playing behind the plate, came in Riverfront Stadium with his mother looking on.
"To become a home run king is all I ever wanted to do," Bench explained last season after his 325th career homer made him the Red's top all-time slugger. Durability has certainly been an ally in his quest. This season he could tie Bill Dickey's record of catching in at least 100 games for 13 consecutive years.
The hardest part in cracking a home run milestone, one might assume, would be hitting the homer that puts a player over the top. Recent history, however, does not bear out this hunch. Bench got No. 314 just three days after belting No. 313. Hank Aaron tied Babe Ruth's career mark of 714 home runs on Opening Day 1974, then broke it with No. 715 in the season's fourth game. And when Roger Maris surpassed the Babe with 61 homers during the 1961 season, he clouted No. 60 in the Yankees' 159th game, followed by No. 61 in the club's 163rd and final game. Angels stuck in reverse
When the California Angels arrived in the land of milk and honey last year, they presumably were ready to take up long-term residency. But as it looks now, Gene Autry's club was only passing through. For after winning their first division title a year ago, the Angels presently find themselves in the American League West cellar with baseball's worst winning percentage (.376). Injuries and poor pitching account for the flip-flop, which could make California the first team since divisional play started in 1969 to go from first to last in one year.