Ernie Banks was hitting home runs before Alex Rodriguez was born. Ernie Banks played shortstop for the Chicago Cubs from 1954-1961, and after hitting a modest 19 home runs in 1954, he hit 44, 28, 43, 47, 45, and 41 home runs from 1955-1960, which topped the totals of Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays for that time period. Shortstops just didn’t do such things in those days and neither did most other players, regardless of their position. In 1958, Banks won the National League MVP Award despite playing for a second division team. The only other time that happened was in 1952, when Hank Sauer won it playing for the fifth place Cubs. Marty Marion was the only other National League shortstop to be selected the National League’s Most Valuable Player before Banks won it.
Ernie Banks Used Monte Irvin’s Lighter Bat
Ernie Banks didn’t look like a home run hitter. At 6’1″ and 175 lb, he was considered big for a shortstop, but Ernie was a wrist hitter, which was where his power came from. “I was using a thirty four ounce bat, and I couldn’t get it around fast enough,” Ernie once told a reporter. The pitchers were stopping me on outside pitches. Then one day, I picked up Monte Irivn’s bat and hefted it. ‘Hmm,’ I said to myself. ‘This feels good.'” Monte Irvin used a thirty one ounce bat with the a thin handle, a weapon against pitchers that Banks could use it almost like a buggy whip. It was after he switched to a lighter bat that Banks became a home run hitter.
Ernie Banks Led the Majors in 1958 With 47 Home Runs
In 1958, Ernie Banks led the majors with 47 home runs and 129 RBIs, while hitting a career high .313. His 47 home runs broke the record he set for shortstops in 1955 when he had 44 home runs. Vern Stephens hit 39 home runs in 1949 as the Red Sox shortstop, but Stephens hit as many as 30 home runs only one other season. In 1969, another Red Sox shortstop, Rico Petrocelli, hit 40 home runs, and then, along came A-Rod. The greatest third baseman in baseball history hit 42 home runs in 1998 and 1999 while playing shortstop for Seattle. in 2000, he hit 41 home runs and then, in 2001, the season in which Barry Bonds hit 73, Alex Rodriguez had 52 home runs as the Texas Rangers’ shortstop, a mark he topped the next year when he hit 57. In 2003, A-Rod’s last season as a shortstop, he hit 47 home runs.
Power Hitting Shortstops
Cal Ripken, a shortstop who was vastly overrated while he was an active player, but whose ranking is dropping with the perspective that time provides, hit as many as thirty home runs only once in his career, when he hit 34 in 1991. Robin Yount, Barry Larkin, Nomar Garciaparra, and Derek Jeter have never hit as many as 40 home runs in a season. An anomaly was Jay Bell, who hit 38 home runs in 1999, but who hit as many as 20 home runs only twice. The greatest shortstop of all time, Honus Wagner, played in the dead ball era. He did not hit home runs, but he slugged doubles and triples. Wagner’s .466 slugging average was .115 points higher than the league’s slugging average.
Two Consecutive MVP Awards
Ernie Banks followed his 1958 MVP year with another season that earned him his second consecutive MVP award, making him the first National Leaguer to win the award in back to back seasons. Banks hit 45 home runs, batted in 143 runs, and hit .304. He also set a major league fielding record for shortstops by committing only 12 errors in 155 games. Nineteen sixty was Ernie Banks’ last season as a regular shortstop, primarily because injured legs limited his range. He did play 104 games at short in 1960, but he also played 23 games in left field and was at first base for 7 games. In 1962, Ernie Banks became the Cubs’ full time first baseman.
The two MVP awards that Ernie Banks won sheds light on the meaning of “Most Valuable Player.” Banks was more valuable to the Cubs than any other player in the league was to his team. Henry Aaron was not as valuable to the pennant winning Braves in 1958 as Banks was to the fifth place Cubs.. Where the team finishes is irrelevant when evaluating a player’s value. It is certainly better to finish first than fifth, but that was not a factor when Banks was the 1958 and 1959 MVP.
Ernie Banks is Ranked Among the Best Shortstops Ever
Ernie Banks never played on a pennant winner. The only time he came really close was in 1969, when he was thirty eight years old and in his last full season. Banks played more games at first base than at shortstop, but he played enough games at short, 1125, to be ranked among the greatest of all shortstops. He certainly is among the greatest of the power hitting shortstops who ever played.
By ARTHUR DALEY (1958, December 3). Sports of The Times :The Fadeout. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 48. Retrieved November 29, 2008, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2005) database. (Document ID: 83429193).
By JOHN DREBINGER (1958, November 26). Banks, Cubs’ Shortstop, Is Named National League’s Most Valuable Player :WILLIE MAYS NEXT, WITH AARON THIRD Giants’ Star Gets 185 Points to Banks’ 283 — Winner Is First on 16 of 24 Ballots. New York Times (1857-Current file),33. Retrieved November 28, 2008, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2005) database. (Document ID: 92657781).
Banks Is Most Valuable Player In National League Second Year :Cubs’ Shortstop First to Be Selected for Consecutive Seasons by Writers. (1959, November 5). New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 45. Retrieved November 29, 2008, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2005) database. (Document ID: 507203052).