30,000 days of Ernie Banks

30,000 days ago, one of the most famous players of his generation was born: Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks.

Banks had quite the memorable career for himself. Playing at a time when players on second-division teams virtually never won MVP Awards, Banks won two while serving as shortstop for the sad sack Chicago Cubs. Playing at a time when no NL player had ever won back-to-back MVP Awards, Banks did so in 1958-59. And, of course, he broke both traditions at the same time.

It’s fairly easy to see why Banks created such a sensation. Before he reached his prime, no National League shortstop ever had hit 40 homers in a season. Heck, none had ever hit 30, or even 25. Alvin Dark set the standard when he banged out 23 for the Giants in 1953. In 1955, in just his second full season, Banks bonked 44.

Okay, so some AL shortstops had previously hit more than 23 homers in a season before Banks. Even still, there weren’t that many, and only one, Vern Stephens, had ever made it to 30. Now Banks had 44.

Despite missing part of 1956 with injury, he still hit 28 than season. Only Stephens had done that before. Not bad for an injured 25-year-old.

Banks really hit his prime beginning in 1957: 43 homers, then 47, 45, and 41. In 1958 and 1959, he also led the league in RBIs. And he did this while manning the most important defensive position. Heck, he even led the league in fielding percentage in 1959. That helped him win those 1958-59 MVPs.

However, as plenty of THT readers have already noticed, we’re looking solely at the old-school, traditional stats here. That makes sense when explaining the perception of Banks, but … well, there’s a but. Those old-school stats aren’t as all-important as they once were, and in the modern eye Banks’ big seasons aren’t quite as impressive.

You could call Banks overrated. Wrigley Field is a hitters park, and fielding average is at best a blunt instrument. Also, Banks never was very good at working the count, so his on-base percentage never was all that high. Yeah, you can go that direction.

But even if you do make all those points, Banks was still one of the best players in that era. Let’s look at WAR as our default sabemetric stat. It says he was the second-best player in the 1958 NL (behind only Willie Mays) and the best in 1959. Even when he’s behind Mays, it’s by less than a game, so you can make a nice case for both awards.

With raw numbers as great as his, Banks was a fantastic offense force regardless of park factor. Oh, and by the way, in the late 1950s Wrigley Field was not, in fact, a hitter’s park. It was neutral and if anything leaned a bit toward the pitchers. And WAR agrees with fielding percentage about Banks’ defense, calling him the best-fielding player in the entire NL in 1959.

But all that misses what really makes Banks so special. He wasn’t just a great player but also a great ambassador for the game. He was a sunny, extremely root-for-able player. He took joy in his professional calling. He didn’t just say “Let’s play two!”; he exuded that spirit. No wonder he played in over 700 straight games before a knee injury. In his Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James called Banks the admirable star of the 1950s. It’s hard to find anyone arguing against that.

Regardless of the numbers, Banks is, by all accounts, a wonderful person, and that person entered this world 30,000 days ago.

Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary.” Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.

Day-versaries

1,000 days since Dustin Pedroia hits three home runs in one game.

1,000 days since the Cubs indefinitely suspend Carlos Zambrano after a dugout tantrum in the first inning of a 6-0 loss to the White Sox. Zambrano is upset with the way Derrek Lee handled a grounder.

1,000 days since Edwin Jackson of the Diamondbacks tosses a no-hitter. It’s not the prettiest one, as he walks eight and throws 149 pitches, but it’s a no-hitter nonetheless.

1,000 days since the Blue Jays bat last in a game against the Phillies in Philadelphia. It’s supposed to be a game in Toronto, but that town is hosting the G20 Summit and, due to security concerns, it’s moved to Philly. It’s also the first time that Roy Halladay pitches against his former team, and he guides Philadelphia to a 9-0 win.

2,000 days since, with the season winding down, numerous athletes appear in their last game, including: Joe Kennedy, Kenny Lofton, Shawn Green, Sammy Sosa, Timo Perez, and Jose Mesa.

2,000 days since Craig Biggio, in the next-to-last game of his career, plays catcher for a few innings. It’s his first time behind the plate in 16 seasons.

4,000 days since Craig Biggio hits for the cycle.

7,000 days since Baltimore signs free agent reliever Lee Smith.

8,000 days since Tony Bernazard plays in his last game.

10,000 days since the Expos trade young prospect Pete Incaviglia to the Rangers.

20,000 days since Norm Cash makes his big league debut.

25,000 days since Freddie Patek is born.

30,000 days since Hank Aguirre is born.

Anniversaries

1896 Hall of Fame umpire Bill McGowan is born.

1906 Shanty Hogan, a good-hitting 1920s-30s NL catcher, is born.

1921 First baseman Gene Paulette is banned for life for taking part in the throwing of games.

1936 The Reds trade Hall of Fame first baseman Jim Bottomley to the Browns.

1938 Boston sends Ted Williams to their Minneapolis Miller minor league team.

1939 Tommy Davis is born. He’ll get over 2,000 hits in a solid career, most notably a fantastic 1962 campaign with 153 RBIs and a league-leading .346 batting average.

1944 Manny Sanguillen, star catcher for the Pirates, is born.

1946 American players appear in Mexican League games. The Mexican League will try raiding the AL and NL in a bid for prominence but ultimately will fail.

1958 The White Sox purchase aging contact hitter Don Mueller from the Giants.

1959 The Indians trade Hall of Famer Larry Doby to the Tigers for Tito Francona.

1962 The Philadelphia Phillies retire No. 36 for Robin Roberts, despite the fact that Roberts is still an active player (though not with Philadelphia).

1963 Shortstop Shawon Dunston is born.

1968 The American League announces that the new Kansas City franchise will be known as the Royals, a name that harkens back to the great Negro League Kansas City Monarchs.

1969 Former Red Sox manager Pinky Higgins dies at age 59.

1969 The Padres sign aging pitcher Johnny Podres as a free agent.

1971 The Royals dedicate their new baseball academy in Kansas City.

1974 Philadelphia purchases Ed Farmer from the Tigers.

1975 In the biggest blowout in NCAA history, Georgia Tech stomps Earlham, 41-0.

1975 Hall of Famer Joe Medwick dies at age 63.

1976 The Who play a concert at Angels Stadium in Anaheim. Some fan takes the opportunity to plant marijuana in the outfield grass, which the grounds crew will later discover growing.

1977 Former Tigers phenom Mark Fidrych tears the cartilage in his left knee and will require surgery.

1978 The Padres fire veteran manager Alvin Dark and hire Roger Craig to replace him. It’s just the second time a skipper has been fired in spring training (Phil Cavaretta with the 1954 Cubs was the first). Dark will never manage again while Craig will have a nice career with first the Padres and then later with the Giants.

1978 Cristian Guzman, infielder that thrice led the league in triples, is born.

1982 Aaron Hill is born. The second baseman for the Blue Jays will lead the AL in at-bats and plate appearances in 2009, earning an All-Star game appearance as he hits 36 homers while sporting a .286 batting average.

1984 St. Louis signs free agent Art Howe.

1986 The Yankees announce that offseason acquisition Britt Burns won’t pitch this year due to a chronic deteriorating hip. He’s done.

1988 Hall of Fame center fielder Edd Roush dies at age 94.

1991 Pittsburgh signs amateur free agent pitcher Esteban Loaiza.

1994 Sen. Howard Mezenbaum holds a 2.5 hour hearing on MLB’s anti-trust exception.

1995 With baseball owners considering usage of replacement players with the players’ strike still going on, Maryland’s House of Delegates approves legislation to bar baseball clubs using replacement players from appearing at Baltimore’s Camden Yards stadium.

1997 Robin Ventura dislocates his ankle and suffers a compound fracture in his lower leg in a game with the White Sox.

2001 Cincinnati trades Drew Henson and Michael Coleman to the Yankees for Wily Mo Pena.

2002 Phillies manager Larry Bowa receive a one-game suspension for his conduct toward umpires in a spring training game on March 9.

2006 Newly signed Nationals slugger Alfonso Soriano refuses to play the outfield for the team in what’s supposed to be his first exhibition game with them. He’ll eventually accept the move from second to left and go on to have his best season.

2010 Minnesota learns that Joe Nathan needs Tommy John surgery.

2011 Jury selection for the Barry Bonds perjury trial begins.

2011 The Mets release former fireballer Oliver Perez.

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Comments

  1. Buck Cameron said...

    I remember Banks from my early years as a fan and recall that he was part of the pantheon with Mays and Mantle and very few others. As a kid one doesn’t really pay much attention to fielding numbers, especially for a slugger like Banks, but I do recall his range being questioned. The quote I recall is “Banks fielded every ball hit right at him”. A bit of an exaggeration I’m sure, but how does he look in stats reflecting range.

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