Bench, F. Robinson just two examples of superstars who bounced back
By Terence Moore
You can wring your hands. You can shake your head. You can sigh all you want, but I'm shrugging over the Andrew McCutchen of 2016.
I remember the Johnny Bench of 1971.
What a mess.
As a Big Red Machine fan, I still shiver with that 45-year-old memory, when Bench went from destroying opponents for the Reds with his bat, his arm and his glove for National League Most Valuable Player Award honors in 1970 to looking clueless and listless throughout the next season.
So you think McCutchen did the unprecedented by imploding out of nowhere this year for the Pirates? Well, consider this: Bench finished 1970 with more home runs (45) and RBIs (148) than anybody in baseball, and he was a catcher. Back then, catchers not named Yogi Berra or Roy Campanella didn't do those types of things, and Bench also hit .293 for the second consecutive year. He made his third straight trip to the All-Star Game and earned his third Gold Glove Award.
Just like that, I, along with everybody else, kept wondering if the statue they'd build of Bench someday would feature him standing in the batter's box or squatting behind the plate.
Then came Bench's 1971. Yikes.
While folks panic over McCutchen's batting average dropping from .292 in 2016 .256 this past season, Bench's sank from .293 in 1970 to .238 in '71. While McCutchen's on-base percentage and slugging percentage went from .401 and .488 to .336 and .430, Bench's slid from .345 and .587 to .299 and .423. While McCutchen went from 96 RBIs to 79, Bench collapsed from 148 to 61.
I would do the math for you, but I'll keep it simple: Bench's plunge across the board over two seasons was much worse than McCutchen's, and I haven't even mentioned McCutchen nevertheless continued his reputation as a line-drive hitter with power in 2016 by going from 23 homers to 24. Bench was a slugger, and he ranked among the primary cogs of the Machine, but he managed just 27 homers in 1971 after slamming 45 in '70.
You probably know where this is going. In 1972, Bench led the Majors in homers (40) and RBIs (125) again, and he won the NL MVP Award again. Then he continued to prosper enough over the next decade to earn that statue in Cincinnati and a Baseball Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown.
Just saying. I'm also saying, if I'm in charge of the Pirates, I'm keeping McCutchen-- the face of the franchise, the catalyst behind a baseball renaissance in recent seasons around the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers, the good guy who just happened to have a bad season. If I'm in charge of the Pirates, and if somebody makes me a deal for McCutchen I can't refuse (Translated: I'm getting nothing less than a lot of stuff in return), I'll make that move, but only with regret.
That's because, if I'm in charge of the Pirates, I'm knowing other baseball officials understand McCutchen's worth, too, or at least I know they should. Unless they have Mike Trout, I'm knowing it's likely worth their gamble to do whatever it takes to get McCutchen on their roster.
We're back to the Bench example, and I hear what somebody is saying. The Little General, as Reds manager Sparky Anderson used to call Bench, was 23 when he suffered that brutal season, and McCutchen is 30.
Isn't 30 the new 20-something?
Since we're talking about the Reds and age, that club once watched team officials trade perennial All-Star Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles after the 1965 season, because Reds general manager Bill Dewitt called the outfielder "an old 30." Despite his supposedly feeble ways, Robinson won the American League Triple Crown in '66. He also solidified his Baseball Hall of Fame credentials that season by helping the Orioles grab the first of his two World Series championships, including the second against Bench and his old Cincinnati team in '70.
I'm not saying McCutchen is Robinson, but who knows? Nothing about McCutchen says the productive part of his career is over, or somewhere in that vicinity.
He doesn't fluctuate much from the 195 pounds wrapped around his 5-foot-10 frame. He's durable. In fact, during six of his eight Major League seasons, he played 153 games or more.
McCutchen is a clubhouse leader. All you need to know is, he keeps his teammates loose by leading them in goofy dances before games. He is a splendid community person, because he won the Roberto Clemente Award for citizenship in 2015.
He also can play. It was just three years ago that McCutchen became the NL MVP Award winner. He won a Gold Glove Award four years ago, and prior to this past season, he spent the four previous years hitting a collective .313 with an average of 25 homers and 90 RBIs.
Sounds like 2016 was a fluke for McCutchen.
If you don't believe me, ask Bench about 1971.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.