He was baseball’s most eligible bachelor. She was one of those toothsome Ultra Brite girls. Four days after they met he proposed, and seven weeks after that they were married.
And now 13 months later, Johnny Bench, the Cincinnati Reds’ All-Star catcher, and model Vickie Chesser have announced that they “agreed to disagree” and have filed for divorce.
Bench first noticed Vickie on the TV commercial and called her for a date. Vickie then was living in New York, earning $75 an hour and dating enthusiastically, including the likes of Joe Namath. Her evening with Bench turned out to be a week in Las Vegas—where Johnny says they had separate rooms on separate floors. “After two days I knew something was going to be very different with him,” Vickie recalled.
After Bench popped the question, Vickie flew home to South Carolina to plan the wedding with her surprised parents. The day after the ceremony in Cincinnati’s Christ Episcopal Church, the Benches flew to Florida where the bridegroom began spring training. Throughout the 1975 season Vickie faithfully attended the Reds’ home games and cheered her husband on. During the play-offs she traveled with him.
The first public hint that all was not well came last December. The couple appeared on the nationally syndicated Phil Donahue television show and revealed sharply differing opinions of wedded bliss. “When we first started seeing each other, I thought he never shut up. I figured I could never keep up with him,” said Vickie. “But the day we got married, he turned into a stone-faced mummy. I’m willing to bend,” she continued, “but the little things are important to me and we argued terribly about that.” Little things included her lack of interest in domesticity. He expected breakfast. “I tried. I even hand-squeezed orange juice. In New York I never ate breakfast,” she said. “I don’t think either of us had any idea what marriage was really like.”
Johnny, it appeared, was upset over her lack of knowledge of baseball; she complained that he excluded her from his financial dealings. She missed “things like his telling me how cute I am or how sweet I smell.” “Both of us are stubborn and both of us were big shots in our own way,” Vickie continued. “I still want to be equal with Johnny and still be happy with him but I need the little things.” During the baseball season several Cincinnati players’ wives complained that Vickie shunned them, preferring to sit alone. “I’m sure they do think I’m an uppity New York model,” she admitted. Summarized one friend of both: “Vickie simply came from a more sophisticated, social world. John, in spite of his fame and success, is a simple, unaffected guy.”
In February Vickie, 26, left Cincinnati for the Manhattan apartment the couple rented. Last week she announced plans to resume her modeling career. “I’m having new pictures taken,” she said, “getting back in the groove, letting people know I’m working again.” Meanwhile, a Cincinnati bank is stuck with a series of ads and TV commercials featuring a loving “Mr. and Mrs. Bench.”
Bench flew to Tampa to play golf, hopeful that baseball’s current deadlock would soon be broken and spring training could begin. At 28, he has signed a new contract with the Reds for $200,000 a year. “There used to be a lot of beautiful women down at the ball park,” said a friend of Johnny’s. “Now they’re going to be back.”