Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ernie Banks

Ernie Banks passed today at the age of 83.
Banks was nicknamed Mr.Cub for his long and merited career in Chicago and was one of the few athletes that never seemed to have a bad word said about them.

Ernie Banks was the forerunner of the offensive shortstop in the fifties as it was Banks that won two MVP's (1958 and 1959) on bad teams with four seasons in a row with over 40 homers and 100 RBI.
One could make the case that Ernie Banks was the greatest hitting shortstop of all-time and certainly the greatest before the arrival of Cal Ripken in the 1980's and the later standouts of the PED era.
Banks would be moved from the six spot in 1961 as a knee injury suffered in the military began to plague him and robbed him of his lateral quickness.
Banks was moved to left field for a interim period before transferring to first base where he would spend his defensive time until his retirement at the age of 40 in 1971 in a abbreviated 39 game season.

The 14 time all-star never put up the numbers after the age of 30 that he did in the four year run noted above,but he continued to put up well above average power numbers,even as his average dipped a bit as only twice in the decade of the sixties did Banks hit fewer than 23 homers in the age of the pitcher.

What so many will remember Banks for is his perpetually sunny disposition and his catchphrase "let's play two".
Banks seemed to be one of those guys that just loved the game and was happy to be around it in whatever form that was needed to stay in the vicinity.
Banks worked for the Cubs as a coach in the 70's,but was more often used through the years as a franchise face/spokesman as the popularity of Banks never stopped even among fans that never saw him play.
Keep in mind that was a pretty large number that continued to grow as your writer,for example,never saw Banks as he retired when I was just three.

Ernie Banks entered the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1977 and in 1982 was the first ever player to have his number (14) retired by the Cubs (there is currently six retired numbers).
Ernie Banks was the type of player that each team used to have in the 60's and early 70's before too much expansion began to suck the depth out of the game.
Let me explain,if you look back to rosters of those times,even the worst teams tended have two or three cornerstone players that were excellent players that spent their career with the team.
Take the 1963 Cubs for example-that team had three hall of famers on it that spent either their entire career as a Cub (Banks) or all but a season or two at their careers end (Billy Williams- final two years as an Athletic and Ron Santo- final season with the White Sox).
The record for that team?  82-80 and 7th place with a record that wasn't quite as good as it looks with the second year franchises in New York and Houston.
The game was better for the fact that each teams fan base could rely on having very good to great players on their team,have them for a long time and those players would mature into the type of person that could become a franchise icon that rarely could do any wrong to their fans.

Ernie Banks might be remembered for several reasons-Hall of Famer,Let's play two,franchise face and holding the record for playing the most games without a postseason appearance (a record unlikely to be broken soon with the bloated playoff system),but he might have another special note as well-possibly most beloved player of his time.
That is not a bad way to be remembered is it??