Johnny Bench And Pete Rose's Feud Explained

In the 1970s, the Cincinnati Reds were one of the National League's most talented teams, with the club, affectionately nicknamed the "Big Red Machine," going on to play in four World Series during the decade (via Baseball Reference). The Reds would win two of those championship series, doing so consecutively in 1975 and 1976, and the World Series MVPs in those years — Pete Rose and Johnny Bench — are still remembered to this day for their accomplishments on the field.

As most baseball fans of a certain age may know, Bench has rightfully been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, as he isn't just one of the best MLB catchers of the 1970s — it's no hot take to call him one of the best catchers of all time. Rose, meanwhile, is not in Cooperstown and probably never will be, as he was banished from Major League Baseball only a few years after he retired as an active player; instead, you can find him in the Celebrity Wing of the WWE Hall of Fame, where he ended up thanks to his memorable feuds with another Big Red Machine – The Undertaker's kayfabe brother (and would-be Knox County, Tennessee, mayor) Kane.

Speaking of feuds, Bench and Rose are still embroiled in a very real-life one as of this writing, and while much of it has to do with Rose's Hall of Fame ban, there's more to it than meets the eye. The seeds may have been planted when they had a rather cool relationship as superstar teammates on the Reds.

They weren't even friends as teammates, per Al Michaels

Although it would seem that success is a great way to unite teammates who otherwise wouldn't hang out with each other, that isn't always the case — one need only look at Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant's tumultuous relationship as the two superstars behind the Los Angeles Lakers' early 2000s three-peat. While there aren't any documented stories of one man slapping the other, it does seem that Johnny Bench and Pete Rose didn't get along very well during their time as Cincinnati Reds teammates in the 1970s.

As explained by Sports Illustrated, Bench and Rose were polar opposites, with the former carrying himself with an air of sophistication and class as the Reds' talented young catcher, and the latter, a veteran at the start of the '70s, living up to his "Charlie Hustle" nickname as an unapologetically hard-nosed outfielder. Legendary sportscaster Al Michaels told the outlet that the two men weren't exactly friends, but it wasn't like their lack of an off-the-field relationship was a distraction to the other Reds, who mostly shared a tight-knit bond as friends and teammates. "Bench and Rose were never bosom buddies, not even close," he explained. "There was a healthy rivalry. Who was the alpha dog? But this was never to the detriment of the team."

Even then, Rose and Bench would team up on a number of business ventures, suggesting that they were at least civil toward each other.

Rose and Bench beefed in the '90s but patched it up in 2010

In 1989, Johnny Bench was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, six years after he ended an illustrious career that saw him hit 389 home runs and record 1,376 RBIs, among other impressive statistics (via Baseball Reference). However, his big moment was overshadowed by his former Cincinnati Reds teammate's headline-making scandal. At that time employed as the Reds' manager, Pete Rose was accused of betting on various sports teams, including the Reds, and while he denied the allegations at first, he was slapped with a lifetime ban from the MLB in August 1989 (via Britannica).

Rose's gambling scandal resulted in some estrangement between him and Bench. The two notably traded barbs in a pair of separate radio interviews in 1995, with Bench stressing that Rose should remain barred from the Hall of Fame because he bet on baseball games and Rose accusing Bench of being jealous and speaking without knowing all of the facts. Their beef had such an impact on Cincinnati councilman Nick Vehr that he proposed the renaming of one of the city's streets from Pete Rose Way to Pete Rose/Johnny Bench Way (via Deseret News). 

However, in 2010, Bench said that Rose had reached out to him in an effort to bury the hatchet. Bench was scant on the details of his meeting with his former teammate, but he told the Associated Press that it was Rose who had arranged the meeting and that they hugged it out at the end.

You may be thinking "all's well that ends well" at this point of the story. But the feud between the two Cincinnati sports icons would be reignited several years later after Bench was once again asked about Rose's absence from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The feud got going again in the late 2010s

Johnny Bench remained firm on his stance regarding Pete Rose's effective ban from Cooperstown when he spoke to TMZ Sports in 2017. When asked by one of the publication's reporters whether he thinks we'll ever see Rose in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Bench replied in the negative. The Hall of Fame catcher later told TMZ Sports that he wishes Rose will get inducted someday, if only it will stop people from asking him about the touchy subject. He added that he knows Rose will never get inducted because of MLB's policies on banned players and that the former Reds superstar needs to face the consequences of his past actions.

It wasn't really the juiciest or most substantial take on Rose's MLB/Hall of Fame ban, but it's worth mentioning that Bench ended his quick TMZ Sports interview by saying, "now he's got the other problem." This was in reference to the allegations Rose was facing at that time, where he was alleged to have had sex with an underage girl in the 1970s (via CNN). The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed after Rose and his accuser came to an agreement.

Rose said Bench should thank him for his HOF induction

Sure enough, Pete Rose fired back at Johnny Bench two years later on Fox News' "The Brian Kilmeade Show," where he told the show's eponymous host that Bench's comments from 2017 didn't bother him ... before really unloading on his ex-teammate. "Johnny Bench is one guy who should thank God I was born," he continued. "Because he never would have made the Hall of Fame if I wasn't born ... I'm the guy he knocked in a thousand times. You've got guys in front of you, guys right behind you, and you got to be responsible for everybody else involved."

As the MLB's career leader in hits, it can't be denied that Rose made Bench and a number of other teammates look good by getting on base and scoring the runs they batted in. But you can't record RBIs if you're not a good hitter yourself, and if you've got great power as Bench did, all the better. Sure, he didn't always hit for average (his career batting average is .267), but Bench's big bat undeniably helped make him a Hall of Fame-worthy player.

So far, we haven't heard anything substantial from Bench or Rose regarding the other. But it doesn't look like the beef has been squashed either, and it probably won't as long as Rose remains ineligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame.