Cincinnati's favorite catcher is keeping a Major League Baseball record that he set more than 50 years ago.
In 1970, former Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench set the record for the most home runs in the first 83 games of a season by player age 22 or younger, with 28 homers. That record was part of a monster year for Bench, a National Baseball Hall of Famer who is widely considered one of the greatest catchers of all time and played for the Reds throughout his entire 17-year career. Bench also brought in 148 runs and hit 45 homers while nabbing a .293 batting average in 1970.
But Bench's first-half record stands firm as attention now turns to the MLB All-Star Game's Home Run Derby on July 12, thanks to two young legacy players who merely tied Bench instead of surpassing him.
At age 22, Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays both knocked in 28 home runs during the first half of the 2021 season, tying Bench. The window to break Bench's record closed after play ended Sunday night when activity paused for the All-Star break.
The pups sure were trying, though. On July 6, Tatis became the fastest player at his age to hit 27 home runs, doing so in 68 games. And on April 27, Guerrero became the youngest player to hit three home runs — including a grand slam — and knock in seven runs in a single game.
Bench, Tatis and Guerrero are now the only three players to hit the 28-homer mark through the first half of a season at age 22.
Bench, who is lending the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory his 1972 Gold Glove and other artifacts for an exhibit, has been cheering Tatis and Guerrero on even as they've threatened his record. Bench regularly shares their progress and milestones on his Twitter feed, adding in one tweet that it was "exciting to watch these kids play."
Tatis is the son of Fernando Tatis, who played 11 pro seasons and remains the only player to hit two grand slams in one inning back in 1999. Guerrero also is the son of baseball royalty — his father Vladimir Guerrero hit at least 30 home runs in eight of his 16 MLB seasons and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018.
Major League Baseball now turns to All-Star Game festivities, with the Home Run Derby airing at 8 p.m. today, July 12, and the All-Star Game itself starting at 7 p.m. July 13. Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker of the Cincinnati Reds are scheduled to start the game. Both events will air on ESPN.
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