Sparky Anderson once said, "Never embarrass a man by comparing him to Johnny Bench." But what the hell, let's do it anyway.
Let's start with longevity. Bench played 17 seasons, 15 of which he appeared in over 100 games. Berra played 19 seasons and had 14 seasons of 100+ games. Their number of games played are close: 2,158 for Bench; 2,116 for Berra. Berra had 7,555 career at bats; Bench had about a hundred more with 7,658.
The first thought I had when seeing those numbers was that Berra played a lot of outfield, but the truth is, Bench started 1,627 games at catcher; Berra started 1,641 behind the plate.
With the lengths of their careers being so close, the counting numbers can be compared straight up.
Berra hit .285 for his career, getting 2,150 hits. Bench had a career batting average of .267, getting 2,043 hits.
Bench had more doubles (381 to 321) and more home runs (389 to 358), but not a higher career slugging percentage. Berra leads there .482 to .476. Berra also had more RBI than Bench, 1,430 to 1,376).
Bench drew more walks (891 to 704), but again, Berra had the higher OB% (.348 to .342). Berra scored more runs than Bench (1,175 to 1,091).
Okay, so offensively, Berra was better than Bench. Not by a lot, but with a higher BA, OBP, SLG... and with more runs scored and runs batted in, Berra gets the nod here.
On to defense. Johnny Bench is considered the greatest defensive catcher in the history of baseball, and with good reason: he won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves - signifying his place among the other catchers of his era. Berra never won a Gold Glove, but to be fair, there was no Gold Glove Award until the tail end of Yogi's career.
As for defensive stats, the most compelling stat for catchers is stolen base percentage. Berra had 425 bases stolen against him and threw out 406. Bench threw out 469 but had a surprising 610 bases stolen against him. Now, I realize we're talking about different leagues and different eras, but the fact that Berra had better SB/CS numbers than Bench is shocking to me.
Johnny Bench was the NL MVP twice. Yogi Berra was the AL MVP three times. Bench's Cincinnati Reds won 2 World Series titles, while Berra's Yankees won 10. Bench was a 12-time All Star. In Berra's time, there were several years in which two All Star games were played, so while Berra was an All Star in 13 different years, he actually played in 14 games.
Comparing players of different eras presents plenty of problems. One has to consider the league averages for batting averages, homers, runs, stolen bases... the list goes on and on. And frankly, this comparison is just an informal one, and... well, I didn't feel like working that hard.
And yet... while both were Hall of Fame players, and you couldn't go wrong with either, I had always assumed (and been told) that Bench is the greatest catcher ever. After comparing the numbers, I'm not so sure Berra wasn't better. In fact, I'm convinced he was. I'd definitely rather have Berra's career than Bench's, if for no other reason than I would have 10 rings as opposed to 2.