Following his selection to both the high school All-State baseball and basketball teams in his senior seasons, Johnny Bench became one of five Oklahomans picked in the first ever baseball draft held in 1965. Before becoming a World Series Champion, ten time Gold Glove winner and a fourteen time All Star catcher for the Cincinnati Reds, Bench, a young man from Binger, Oklahoma, was selected by the Red's Triple A farm team, the San Diego Padres, of (then) the Pacific Coast League.
It wasn't long before Bench was in Buffalo, yes New York, rapidly working his way from high school direct to "The Show." This within a blink of an eye, two year span of the sands of time. But, long before Bench's selection to major league baseball's Hall Of Fame, All-Century Team and All-Time Team, and within a similar blink of an eye, "he left the road" and nearly lost his life.
Wait. What? How did this legendary narrative get lost within those sands of 1960's time? Unbelievable, inconceivable, unthinkable, unimaginable. Pick one as one of our universe's greatest baseball players from all existing matter and space considered as whole, aka the Cosmos, nearly lost his life! It is most unfortunate to learn that two of his high school teammates actually did back in 1965.
With "State Staff" reporting this tragic story from Binger, any and all aboard a school bus heading home, including a young Johnny Bench, could have instantly lost their life on that catastrophic Thursday, April Fools Day, in 1965. With sincere honor and remembrance of the two young baseball players who did lose their lives on that dismal day, Billy Joe Wylie and Harold Sims, I dreadfully unfold this devastating story as recorded by The Daily Oklahoman.
"Two Binger youths were killed and 11 others inured Thursday night in the death roll of a school bus down a 50-foot embankment after the brakes went out. The school's coach also was injured.
The bus was carrying the Binger HIgh School baseball team, last year's Class B state champions in the spring tournament, home from a game at Riverside Indian School, north of Anadarko.
It went out of control on the incline leading to the 'T' intersection of S.H. 152 and U.S. 281 four miles east of Binger. The bus hit the railing and overturned four times down a steep bank. The highway patrol said brake trouble had plagued the bus recently.
The two boys killed when they were thrown from the bus as it rolled over them were Billy Joe Wylie, 16, son of Mr. and Mrs. Roy Wylie, and Harold Sims, also about 16, son of Mrs. Audrey Johnson.
Jerry Scott, 18, who was graduated last year from high school but made Thursday's trip with the team, said Coach Lloyd Dinse, 25, stepped on the brakes about 125 or 150 feet before reaching the intersection. Nothing happened.
'The brakes are out,' Dinse yelled. Scott said the coach kept pumping the brakes without effect, then tried to shift down to low. That failed, also, but he did get the bus in second gear and slowed some as he tried to turn east at the 'T' intersection.
'We just had too much speed,' Scott said. 'We hit the rail and started rolling. I was sitting in the front seat to the right of coach and grabbed onto a pole. I swung around four times.'
Scott, whose brother, Gilbert, 17, is team scorekeeper and was also on the bus, said there had been no previous indication of break trouble.
Paul James, member of the baseball team, was the first thrown out of the bus. He went out the back door. He said later he saw the bus rolling down at him and was able to jump out of the way.
The two boys who were killed went out side windows and were crushed by the bus.
Dinse and one boy, Jimmie Lee Nabors, 16, were admitted to Anadarko Hospital and Clinic for treatment of shock and for observation. Attendants said neither was believed in serious condition.
Five other team members were given emergency treatment at the Anadarko hospital and released.
Dr. Henry Phifer, Binger, treated a number of the crash victims in his office for cuts, bruises and sprains.
William Buntin, Binger town marshal, said news of the crash spread quickly through Binger. "Everybody took it pretty hard,' he said. 'I guess most of the people in Binger went out there.'
Buntin said the bus was demolished.
Scott said after he climbed out of the bus and saw its condition, 'I figured any of us were lucky to get out of it.'
The highway patrol said the bus was an activity bus, not used on regular bus routes, and the brakes had been giving trouble before. Trooper Frank Brundrige, Anadarko, said the brake fluid had to be replenished frequently.
'The plate on the floor board around the foot pedal had been removed and paper stuffed in to replace it,' he said.
Brundridge also said the hose leading to the left rear wheel was partially burned by the exhaust pipe and had ruptured.
Earl C. Everett, superintendent of Binger schools, said 12 baseball players; Scott, the graduate and the coach were aboard the bus.
Other than the two boys killed, he said the baseball players included David Gunter, Ronnie Grain (Crain), Johnny Bench, Paul James, Joe Ed James, Jimmie Nabors, Jerry Howell, Gilbert Scott, Eddie Mashaney and Rex Haskell.
'We don't think any of them are seriously hurt,' he said."
This is quite an unusual and historical tragedy that is hard to wrap a person's thought processing around. As a young Caddo County OK Kids little leaguer of this time frame, I had only heard bits and pieces of such news without truly being able to understand its magnitude. Along with those bits and pieces, I also heard whispers of Johnny Bench grabbing and holding on to a couple of his teammates as the bus rolled out of control. This possibly saving their lives. True or not, I cannot confirm or disconfirm such facts.
As a youthful OK Kids little leaguer, I had envisioned such tragedy only heard of actually happening on the big sloping hill that drops down into Binger from the west. Not that it changes anything, but, knowing exactly where it happened, at the "T" on State Highway 152 east of Binger, will bring me to acknowledge the loss of two young and valuable lives each time I pass by on the way to visit family and friends in Caddo County. It will also bring about a somewhat bittersweet yet spiritual acknowledgment and thankfulness that one of our world's most distinguished baseball heroes of all time, Johnny Bench, survived and recovered from this most atrocious tragedy to proceed forward and fulfill his self-proclaimed destiny of greatness.
Author's Note: All contents researched and written with confidence of accuracy. The line "he left the road" is the title of a song written and performed by Caddo County and Oklahoma singer/songwriter Verlon Thompson. Video segment shared courtesy of Ball State University Libraries. Binger High School team photo courtesy of the Johnny Bench Museum in Binger, Oklahoma.