Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ernie Banks (#355)

Here we have Chicago Cubs superstar Ernie Banks. "Mr. Cub" never played minor league baseball, but he did play for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League from 1950 to 1953.

Banks is one of a handful of former Negro League players still playing major league baseball into the late 1960s. I guess it's common knowledge that Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were Negro League veterans, but I recently learned that Yankees catcher Elston Howard was Banks' teammate with the Monarchs. (I also discovered that early 1970s Detroit Tigers infielder Ike Brown played in the Negro Leagues. I mistakenly assumed that anyone not making the major leagues until the 1970s would have been too young to play Negro League baseball.)

Banks was signed by the Cubs on September 8, 1953, and made his major-league debut at shortstop on September 17th, playing 10 games that first season.

From 1954 to 1969, Banks was in the lineup almost every day, playing 150 or more games for 12 of those 16 seasons. Between 1954 and 1960, he led the league in games played 6 times. Banks was originally the Cubs regular shortstop, but in 1962 he moved over to first base.

Beginning with the 1970 season, the 39-year-old Banks cut back his workload, sharing the first base job with Jim Hickman. In 1971, Joe Pepitone took over the first base chores, while Banks only played 20 games at 1B. He appeared in 52 other games as a pinch-hitter.

Ernie was released by the Cubs after the 1971 season. He had played his entire 19-year major-league career with the Cubs, and retired with 512 homeruns. His 277 homeruns as a shortstop was the record until Cal Ripken came along.

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