Let’s play two! – Remembering Ernie Banks

Ernie-BanksBaseball mourns the passing over the weekend of Ernie Banks, a week shy of his 84th birthday. The career Cub was famous for never playing a post-season game, but more famous for his Hall of Fame career that began in 1950 with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. Banks then entered military service, though he somehow found time to “moonlight” with the Harlem Globetrotters! After his discharge, Banks skipped the minors and went straight to the show, debuting in September 1953 as the Cubs’ first black player. That debut was also auspicious for multi-hit games in two of Banks’ first three contests, including his first home run off Gerry Staley of the Cardinals. A week later, Banks would again victimize Staley who had been enjoying an 18-win All-Star campaign. The St. Louis right-hander would soon have company among the many NL hurlers to be burned by Chicago’s young slugger.

After the jump, more on the career of Ernie Banks.

Banks would play every game in 6 of the next 7 seasons, swatting 40 or more home runs in 5 of those campaigns. That power outburst at shortstop was truly revolutionary as no shortstop before Banks had reached 40 home runs even once, and only one (Vern Stephens) had reached even 25 dingers. Even today, only one shortstop (Alex Rodriguez) has exceeded Banks’ five 40 HR seasons and just one more (Rico Petrocelli) has even one such campaign. Similarly, only Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra have exceeded Banks’ five seasons with 300 total bases and just one more shortstop (Miguel Tejada) has matched that feat. Banks complemented his power stroke with over 400 career doubles. His 14 straight seasons (1955-68) with 20 two-baggers (and 16 straight seasons with 19) has been exceeded among shortstops (50% of games played over period) only by Derek Jeter and Honus Wagner.

After a runner-up finish to Wally Moon as the 1954 NL RoY, Banks would reel off 8 straight All-Star selections, all but the last as shortstop. Included were back-to-back MVP seasons in 1958-59, leading Chicago to consecutive 70 win campaigns. As modest as that team accomplishment may seem, it was the first time for a Cubs team in 13 years.  Alas, it would be four more years before Chicago had its first winning campaign with Banks, and back-to-back winning seasons wouldn’t come until 1967-68. Despite playing on the losing side in almost 55% of his career games, Banks recorded 7 games with two home runs and a WPA of 0.500 or more, tied with Reggie SmithVladimir Guerrero and Hank Aaron, and trailing only Mickey Mantle‘s total of 8 such searchable games.

Banks’ 6-year peak at age 24-29 totaled 47.1 WAR and 32.2 WAA (both Baseball-Reference.com version), one of only 16 position players (and the first shortstop) to exceed 45 WAR and 30 WAA at those ages. Banks and Willie Mays both reached those totals in the 1960 season, the first players to do so since Jimmie Foxx 23 years earlier. Only four players who debuted after Banks retired have matched that feat. Banks also joined Mays and two other contemporaries (Eddie MathewsMickey Mantle) in reaching 250 home runs before his age 30 season, something only six other pre-expansion players accomplished. Banks’ 269 home runs through age 29 remains the second highest total for shortstops, trailing only Alex Rodriguez‘s mark of 429.

Starting in the 1962 season, Banks switched from shortstop to first base, serving as the Cubs’ everyday first baseman for 8 years and logging 150 games played in 6 of those seasons. For his career, Banks recorded 1000 games played at both first base and shortstop. Julio Franco, who would finish one game behind Banks’ total of 2528 games played, passed the 500 game mark at first base in his final, age 48 season and is the only other player with 500 games at those two positions. Banks was the first player with 1000 games played at any two infield positions, a feat since equaled only by Rod Carew (1B and 2B) and Alex Rodriguez (SS and 3B). In the 40+ years since Banks retired, only two players have played 1000 games for the Cubs at either of his positions: Shawon Dunston and Mark Grace.

Wrigley field has long been regarded as a friendly park for power hitters, a home field advantage that Banks ably exploited. While his 113 point home vs road OPS advantage is sizable, it is nowhere close to the record territory of a 200+ point advantage that benefited a number of players. Even among Cubs, Banks ranks only third in home OPS differential, behind Ron Santo and Ryne Sandberg. Still, Banks’ 290 home runs at Wrigley trails only Sammy Sosa (293, Wrigley) and Mel Ott (323, Polo Grounds) for most home runs in one ballpark.

Banks’ milestone 500th home run and 400th double came just four weeks apart, early in the 1970 season. In all, Banks tallied 512 round-trippers, more than one-quarter of them hit in double-header games. It was before one such twin-bill early in his career that Banks first uttered what would become his trademark expression. Trying to energize his flagging teammates near the end of another dismal season, Banks bounded into the clubhouse and exclaimed to one and all “It’s a beautiful day — let’s play two!” . Banks was an easy first ballot HOFer in 1977, but undoubtedly his proudest accomplishment was being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, only the ninth ballplayer to be so honored.

Banks’ final home run was hit off Jim McGlothlin of the Reds, a shot that broke Mel Ott‘s NL record for the most home runs by a single franchise player (Mike Schmidt, who would break that record and still holds it today, would make his debut the next season). Earlier that final season, on July 2nd, Banks came up to pinch hit after Cubs catcher J.C. Martin doubled with two out to extend the home 9th. Banks grounded out to end the contest but his appearance made that game the first in major league history with 7 players who had then hit 200 career home runs, as Banks joined Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell of the opposing Pirates, and Cub teammates Billy WilliamsRon SantoJoe Pepitone and Johnny Callison. Quiz: what game was the first in which 9 players appeared who had then hit 200 career home runs?

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birtelcom
Editor
5 years ago

Over the period 1950 to 1969, the first two full decades of baseball’s integration era, the guys who played the most regular season MLB games:
1. Willie Mays 2,563
2. Hank Aaron 2,426
3. Ernie Banks 2,417
4. Mickey Mantle 2,401
5. Eddie Mathews 2,391

Voomo Zanzibar
Voomo Zanzibar
5 years ago

His best WAR seasons are pleasingly progressive:

10.2
9.4
8.2
7.8
6.4
5.3
4.6
3.5

Joseph
Joseph
5 years ago

I’m start out by guessing the quiz answer involved the 2003 Braves, who had Javey Lopez, Marcus Giles, Vinny Castilla, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, and Gary Sheffield.

And maybe the Giants in 2003, who had Benito Santiago, Marquis Grissom, Barry Bonds, Andres Galarraga.

May 9, 2003.

Wait–That’s 10 players.

So maybe that is the answer to a different quiz.

Joseph
Joseph
5 years ago
Reply to  Doug

Okay, I don’t know how I got the right year and the wrong teams. Let’s try again.

2003 NYY had Williams, Giambi, Robin Ventura, Todd Zeile, Ruben Sierra, and Raul Mondesi.

Texas had ARod, Juan Gonzalez, and R. Palmeiro.

They played a game on April 25, 2003.

But there’s a twist. Sierra was with Texas at the time.

So, it looks like it was NYY: Williams, Giambi, Ventura, Zeile, and Mondesis. Fiver players.

Texas Rangers: ARod, Juan Gon, Palmeiro, and Sierra.

Doug
Doug
5 years ago
Reply to  Joseph

Those are the players and teams. They all played in the weekend games of that series, on Apr 26 and 27, and in the May 16 return engagement in the Bronx.

When those teams next met in August, everything had changed:
– Sierra was with the Yankees
– Mondesi was in Arizona
– Ventura was in LA
– Zeile did not play and would move to the Expos a few days later
– Gonzo was out for the year with an injury

John Autin
Editor
5 years ago

Nice job, Doug. Ernie Banks must be the most famously upbeat superstar in MLB history — maybe in any sport. Of all the great players whose personalities were as integral to their public image as their performance, I think there are more “difficult” than “easygoing” types — which is probably inherent to athletic competition. In a way, it’s miraculous that guys like Banks and Musial were able to reach such competitive heights. My brother and I will always associate Banks with the wonderful John Sayles film, “The Brother From Another Planet.” There’s a barroom scene that helps establish the Brother’s… Read more »

BryanM
BryanM
5 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

What John Autin said…. RIP MISTER Cub. Each of is is conscious of the efforts we exert to put forth a public image that is is some sense “better” that the way we know ourselves to be; this causes us, rightly, to discount thepublic images of others. Then , once in a while , someone comes along whose inside is as good as the outside, as Ernie apparently was, and we recognize their greatness too late….

John Autin
Editor
5 years ago

A few more Banks stats: One of seven shortstops with a 10-WAR season, and one of four with two 9-WAR years. Honus Wagner had four 9-WAR years, Ripken and A-Rod 2 each. Only player besides Ripken with two MVP Awards playing short. (A-Rod’s second and third MVPs came at 3B, and Robin Yount’s second trophy came as a CF.) His 379 total bases in ’58 stood 40 years as the SS season mark, topped only by A-Rod and Jimmy Rollins. Only Cub besides Sammy Sosa with two or more 40-HR years. Retired at #8 in career HRs, 12th in RBI, 13th in… Read more »

John
John
5 years ago

Thank you. Thank you for such a wonderful eulogy of one of my boyhood heroes. Thank you

Gary Bateman
Gary Bateman
5 years ago

I always enjoyed Banks as a player and his catch phrase makes me wonder what effect, if any, playing the number of regularly scheduled doubleheaders as was played in the 60’s would have on today’s players and teams. I could see it having a rather distinct effect on pitching, both rotations and bullpen usage. Have there been any studies, or does anyone want to hazard a guess?

Darien
5 years ago

I was surprised to hear that Banks, Carew, and Rodimus are the only players with 1000+ games at each of two infield positions — it appears that, anecdotally, I remember Craig Biggio spending more years as a catcher than he evidently did!

You’ll be missed, Ernie. You’re still the goods.

John Autin
Editor
5 years ago

Off topic … Interesting post from David Schoenfield on the idea of making each reliever face more than one batter. The notion seems to be more mainstream now than when I blogged about it last year. In the current ESPN poll, 60% of voters would require RPs to face more than one batter.
http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/54831/should-relievers-have-to-face-two-batters

RJ
RJ
5 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

I was trying to find your piece earlier because it seems everyone and his dog is suggesting new rule changes at present (there are two articles in this vein currently on the Fangraphs home page).

Ah, here it is: http://www.highheatstats.com/2014/07/scoring-is-down-again-should-something-be-done/

bstar
bstar
5 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

And did you hear that the new commish has suggested the possibility of banning defensive shifts as a way to pump up offense? He has already backtracked on that, commenting here: “Maybe a lot of hitters went home this winter and they figured out how to go the other way against the shift and it will self-correct and we’re not going to need to make a change”. I think the easiest way to speed up the game is on a per-pitch basis. You don’t even have to make up a new rule — just follow the ones already in the… Read more »

ReliefMan
ReliefMan
5 years ago
Reply to  bstar

Clearly we ought to do something about offensive shifts. You have teams alternating the platoon with every hitter in their lineup, encouraging teams so that if they switch to a LOOGY for one hitter, they tend to want to make another pitching change immediately for the next guy! No, let’s just say that whatever team uses the third base dugout, all their batters have to stand in the right-handed batters’ box, and the team from the first base dugout has to stand in the left-handed box. There, now no one even has to cross the plate when it’s their turn… Read more »

Doug
Doug
5 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

I’m with the commish on his back-track – no need for a rule change on defensive shifts.

The game (or the players) will self-adjust. Players who stubbornly persist in pounding the ball into the teeth of the shift will go the way of other dinosaurs.

JasonZ
5 years ago

I look forward to the day I can raise an ice cold Bud Light for three people. One that I love, and two that I admire. My wife’s Grandpa Joe was born in Chicago in 1907. No need to mention what happened in 1908, when gramps was 1. I met gramps when he was 87, I was 27. We talked alot of baseball. I could say, Phil Cavaretta and gramps would smile and recall a game he attended from 50,60 or 70 years ago. Baseball brings generations together and makes decades feel like minutes. My wife’s grampa Joe was a… Read more »