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Without Ernie Banks, the Cubs would have finished the season in Albuquerque



Like I said, I will offer stories... most will be Cubs related... but here is a nice one...

Contributed by: Troy Clarke

On a long anticipated day in May 1970, the most beloved Cub in franchise history achieved what no other shortstop had ever when he joined Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Jimmie Fox, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews and Mel Ott in baseball’s elite 500 home run club. His historic blast came in the second inning in front of 5,264 Wrigley Field faithful and ensured his place among those seven others in the hollowed halls of Cooperstown.

Seventeen years earlier, with the end of the season looming and nothing to lose, Cubs management sent word to manager Phil Cavarretta to start four rookies against the Philadelphia Phillies in a mid September game. Ernie Banks replaced an ailing and struggling Roy Smalley Sr. and made three plate appearances that day. Each time Banks left the batter’s box hitless. His major league debut had been dismal and to make matters worse, he had failed to stop a ground ball in a humiliating 16-4 loss the Chicago press dubbed the “Rookie Daze.â€Â

Fortunately Banks regrouped and in a total of 10 games in that last month of that 1953 season he collected eleven hits, a double, a triple and two home runs. The Cubs’ brass saw enough to realize they had their new shortstop. That off-season Smalley was sent to the Milwaukee Braves and Banks began a career that would eventually see him voted as the most popular Chicago Cub ever.

Ernest Banks was born in Dallas Texas in 1931 and didn’t take to baseball immediately. His father, who once played semi-pro baseball, bought him a glove for $2.98 during the depression but had to bribe young Ernie with nickels and dime to use it. Banks was more interested in other sports during his youth, captaining both his high school football and basketball teams. He finally came to baseball by way of his high school softball team where he was assigned the shortstop position.

In 1948 a scout for the Amarillo Colts’ barnstorming team was on a recruiting mission and thought Ernie would make a good baseball player. A few days later, with his father’s blessing, he suited up for the Colts and began his professional baseball career. The following season Ernie led the Colts in hitting and caught the eye of Cool Papa Bell who was managing the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues at the time. After getting his high school diploma, which his mother insisted on, the Monarchs signed Banks the following spring for $300. In his first season he hit .301 and belted 15 home runs.

After two seasons in Negro Leagues, Major League Baseball came knocking. St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck was the first to notice Ernie’s skills. Veeck contacted Monarchs owner Tom Baird who immediately agreed to sell Ernie’s contract because he believed Veeck was much fairer to black players than any other major league owner; for $35,000 the Browns could have Ernie. But Veeck could not come up with the money and wanting to keep Banks out of the American league, he made the Cubs aware of Banks’ availability.

In nineteen major league seasons, Banks collected 2,583 hits, 512 home runs, 407 doubles, and ninety triples and only struck out 1,236 times in over 9400 at bats. He led the National League in home runs in 1958 and 1960 and captured the RBI crown in two of those three years. He played in no less than eleven All Star games and became the first senior circuit player to win two consecutive Most Valuable Player awards. What made this feat even more remarkable is that he did so on a team that never made the post season, as one sportswriter put it: "Without Ernie Banks, the Cubs would have finished the season in Albuquerque!"

On August 15, 1964, after several refusals from the modest Banks and five more productive years stll ahead, the Cubs held Ernie Banks Day to salute his achievements on and off the field. Mr. Cub, as Banks became affectionately known as throughout the Windy City that day, was not only a great baseball player; he was a wonderful human being whose sunny disposition was legendary and earned him the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in 1967. He loved the game so much, he once quipped, “It's a great day for a ball game; let's play two!†and whenever a new player joined the Cubs, Banks was the first player to greet and welcome them to the team and introduce them to the press.

After fifteen years in a Cub uniform, Banks’ best shot at a playoff appearance finally came in the 1969 campaign. With the likes of Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert, Randy Hundley and Fergie Jenkins the Cubs had their best shot at a World Seires berth since 1945 but collapsed in August, blowing the nine game lead they had over the New York Mets and ending Banks’ last chance for October glory.

The following season Banks played in only 72 games and in September 1971, with a troubling arthritic knee and having played in only 39 games, Banks hung up his cleats for the last time after, ironically, collecting his 2,533rd hit off a Phillies pitcher at Wrigley Field almost 19 years to the day later.

Five years later in his first year of eligibility, Ernie Banks was elected the lone player to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

On a windy, Sunday afternoon in August 1982, the Cubs retired Banks’ number 14 running it up a flagpole in the left field corner of Wrigley Field where a 17-mile-per-hour wind whipped it over the ivy.


Sultan of Swat
Staff member
This is a remarkable story, I thought I knew a lot about Mr. Ernie Banks but I guess I was wrong. I didn’t know this much, thank you for the great story.

The thing that I really liked about him was that even though he was never close to making the playoffs except for a couple of years, he stayed true to is team and never demanded to be traded, that’s a true team player right there.

That’s incredible that he only struck out close to 1300 times while having well over 9400 at bats, it’s just a shame that he couldn’t reach is 3000 hits. But in my opinion he’s the best short stop to ever play the game.

Also it’s really funny seeing that those players where making only 300$ a year, but now players like Alex Rodriguez is making more then that per at bat.