Posts Tagged ‘Ernie Banks’

Congratulations and another one of those All Time Teams

September 16, 2016

First, it seems right to congratulate the Chicago Cubs as the first team to guarantee a spot in the playoffs. But, perhaps to celebrate, Sports Illustrated just released, on its daily mailing it sends to people like me, the All Time Cubs team. Here, for your interest and edification, is the list:

Catcher–Gabby Hartnett

Infield-Cap Anson (1st), Ryne Sandberg (2nd), Ernie Banks (ss), Ron Santo (3b)

Outfield–Billy Williams (left), Hack Wilson (center), Sammy Sosa (right)

Pitchers–Fergie Jenkins and Mordecai Brown as starters and Bruce Sutter as the reliever.

There are no backups listed.

So what do we make of this? On the face of it, it isn’t a bad list. It’s certainly better than the thing ESPN did on its top 100 players. Having said that, I have a couple of problems with it. I’m not sure how you compare Anson with the rest of the cast. He spent almost his entire career (which went from the National Association of the 1870s into the 1890s) hitting against pitchers who were not allowed to throw overhand or who did not throw from a mound 60’6″ away. I agree Anson was a heck of a player (probably a top 100), but I’m not sure you can accurately compare him with more modern Cubs first basemen (Mark Grace, Leon Durham, even Phil Cavarretta of the 1945 team). Sure you can make comparisons with Anson’s contemporaries, but I do worry about comparing him to much never guys. Second, I wish they’d do some commentary on Sosa’s steroid issue. I’m not sure how much it would change his position, but it should be noted (as should the bitter taste of how he left Chicago).

There is no manager listed. I suppose I’d go with Frank Chance. He’s the only one who proved he could lead a team to a modern World Series championship. Anyway, you should be able to find the list on Sports Illustrated’s website somewhere.

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“You’re a Better Man…

February 4, 2015

…than I am, Gunga Din.”–Rudyard Kipling

playbill for the movie version of "Gunga Din"

playbill for the movie version of “Gunga Din”

As with most baseball fans I was saddened by the recent death of Ernie Banks. He was, by all accounts, a better man than a ballplayer and he was one heck of a good ballplayer. I never met him myself, but he’s one of a handful of the true greats that I’d really have liked to know.

But Banks was more than a good man and a good ballplayer, he was also a pioneer. I presume a few of you don’t know that he was the first black player in Chicago Cubs history. He was the first great Major League black shortstop. His hitting was superb (he won 2 MVP awards), his fielding was better than a lot of people would like you to believe, but he wasn’t Ozzie Smith either. He set the pattern for the big, powerful shortstop in the same way that Eddie Matthews set the standard at third base. It took a long time for it to register on the baseball world what Banks had done, but eventually other players like Cal Ripken and Alex Rodriguez followed in his path (although it’s fair to say that Ripken was the true catalyst of the new type of shortstop). Although not power hitters in the way of Banks both Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter are also in the Banks mold.

With his passing we are down to six of the players who originally integrated the 16 original teams of the 1950s: Monte Irvin (Giants), Minnie Minoso (White Sox), Ozzie Virgil, Sr. (Tigers), Pumpsie Green (Red Sox), and both Nino Escalara and Chuck Harmon (who both played for the Reds on the same day). Let’s take a minute here and remember them. Each should have his number retired by his team in the same way and for the same reason that all of Major League Baseball retired Jackie Robinson’s 42. Irvin and Minoso have already received this honor (as have a couple of the deceased players like Banks), but I’d like to see it done by all those teams that were once segregated, without reference to the quality of the player.

It seems like the right thing to do. After all they went through to get to the big leagues and then what they went through upon arrival, it’s the least we can do. And after all they went through they are, at least in a baseball sense, like Gunga Din; better men than most of us.

 

RIP Ernie Banks

January 23, 2015

ESPN reports that two time MVP and Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks died today at age 83.

RIP, Ernie

The Derek Jeter Aura

March 3, 2014

So I see that Derek Jeter is hanging it up at the end of this season. That’s both good and bad. It’s, frankly, time for him to go, but it will cost MLB its face (which isn’t really David Wright, despite the recent poll) and the most recognizable player of his generation. He’ll get to make a grand tour, get lots of gifts (but try to top Rivera’s broken bat rocking chair), a ton of applause and adulation. Then he’ll ride off toward Cooperstown, making it in five years. It’s really a fitting way for him to leave us.

Ever notice how some players just have an aura about them? Ruth had one, so did Mantle. Koufax has it to a lesser degree. Well, Jeter has one too. He is “The Captain” the rock around which the Yankees built their latest dynasty. He’s the man with “The Flip” (which is still probably the best fielding play I ever saw). He is “one of the five greatest Yankees ever.” You hear all that don’t you?

Well, hang on a minute. Without trying to diminish Jeter’s legacy, which is formidable, let’s not get too carried away here. It’s not like he’s the first captain the team ever had. Gehrig was team captain too and Gehrig was a better player. If Jeter was the rock on which the latest Yankees dynasty was built, then he had a lot of other rocks around to hold up part of that foundation. There was Pettitte, Rivera, Posada (the so-called “Core Four”), and there was Clemens, and O’Neill, and Knoblauch, and Martinez too.

Jeter reminds me of Joe DiMaggio. He has the same aura about him. Both are great players, but both seem to be remembered as being somehow greater than they were in actuality. It took twenty-five years for fans to realize that Mantle was a greater player than DiMaggio and Jeter has that kind of aura too. I don’t mean to imply that somehow the Yanks have a greater shortstop in their history, only to point out that Jeter is revered in much the same way as DiMaggio. There’s a reverence about them that is different from the awe that surrounds either Mantle or Gehrig, or for that matter, Ruth. For the latter three it seems that “awe” is more appropriate and with Jeter and DiMaggio the word is “reverence.”

As for being “one of the five greatest Yankees ever” I suppose you could make that case for Jeter, although I’d rank him in the six through eight range, behind Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Berra and in line with Ford and Rivera. That’s not a bad place to be, all things considered. He’s probably a top five to ten shortstop (certainly behind Wagner and Ripken) depending on how you categorize Banks and Yount. He was never Ozzie Smith in the field, but then neither was much of anyone else.

Then it’s good-bye to Derek Jeter. The Yankees will miss him. I think a greater tribute is that baseball will miss him.

A Medal for Ernie

August 9, 2013

Saw that the President has decided to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 16 worthies. It’s the highest civilian medal the US gives out. One of the recipient’s is former Cubs great Ernie Banks. Stan Musial got one of these a couple of years ago. Good for you, Ernie.

The 50 Greatest Cubs

December 5, 2012
Billy Williams, the 5th greatest Cub

Billy Williams, the 5th greatest Cub

As a followup on the 50 Greatest Dodgers post, I found two more lists that ESPN published. Root around a little and you can find the entire list at ESPN. There are five total that I have found, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, and White Sox. I’ve already commented on the Yanks, BoSox, and Bums. Here are some thoughts on the Cubs list.

1. The top 10 Cubs, as listed by ESPN, are, in order: Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Cap Anson, Three Finger Brown, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg, Frank Chance, Hack Wilson, and Gabby Hartnett. Again, before anyone can ask, the first guy out of the top 10 (number 11) is Phil Cavarretta.

2. To make a complete team with a four man World Series rotation (at least one lefty) and a closer you get an infield of  Anson at first, Sandberg at second, Banks at short, Santo at third; an outfield of Williams, Wilson, and Riggs Stephenson (at number 18); Hartnett catching; a rotation of Brown, Jenkins, Hippo Vaughn (number 12 and the lefty), and Ed Reulbach (at number 13); with the closer being Lee Smith at number 24. The first player duplicating a position, and hence the DH is Chance.

3. Sammy Sosa finished 23. The little bit of commentary available notes the steroid allegations and the corked bat problem. Without them, my guess is he makes the top 10 easy and replaces Stephenson on the starting team.

4. Tinker to Evers to Chance is perhaps the most famous infield combination ever. As noted above Chance is 8th. Joe Tinker shows up at 15th (the second highest shortstop on the list) while Evers is number 30, the fourth second baseman listed (behind Rogers Hornsby at 21 and Bill Herman at 17).

5. I was surprised to see Lee Smith above Bruce Sutter (who finished 29th). I have no particular problem with that, but I thought the Cy Young Award and the split-finger mystique would move Sutter to the top of the closer list.

6. Besides Anson, there are two other 19th Century players listed, Larry Corcoran at 22nd, and Clark Griffith at 50th. That means that essentially all those 1880s Colts were excluded. I’m not sure why. The change in mound and other rules would surely have excluded Anson also, so that can’t be the reason.

7. Which brings me to the most glaring omissions: King Kelly and John Clarkson.

8. Stan Hack is very underrated at 27th on the list. I know a number of people support him for the Hall of Fame. Whether he deserves to be there or not is another question.

9. Considering the Cubs record of futility since 1908, it’s sometimes astounding to note the number of truly great players that have come through Chicago. The following Hall of Famers are on the list and have so far not been mentioned: Andre Dawson (20th), Kiki Cuyler (28th), Grover Cleveland Alexander (31st). Also Greg Maddux, a sure Hall of Fame member is 14th (and the first pitcher that didn’t make the four man rotation). Long-time manager Charlie Grimm is 26th, Charlie Root who gave up Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in the 1932 World Series is 19th, and MVP Hank Sauer is listed 37th.

10. To me the most surprising name on the list is Carlos Zambrano at 40th.

Thoughts?

A Bad Century: Revival

May 15, 2012

Bob Dernier

After losing the 1945 World Series the Chicago Cubs went into a prolonged slump, a wander in the wilderness. It lasted 39 years (one less than Moses). For all that time, the Cubs were a team that produced really good players like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Billy Williams, but continuously failed to advance to any kind of postseason. They were in contention a couple of times, most notably 1969, but failed, as usual, to pull off a victory. That finally changed in 1984.

The Cubs of 1984 were sometimes called the “Phillies West” because of a  major trade with Philadelphia that gave them just over half their starting lineup. They picked up all three outfielders from Philadelphia: Bob Dernier, Gary Mathews, and Keith Moreland (both Mathews and Moreland were part of the 1980 World Championship team) as well as the middle infield combination of shortstop Larry Bowa and second baseman and MVP Ryne Sandberg. Third baseman Ron Cey had also arrived from another team, this time the Dodgers, as did former Cardinal Leon Durham who held down first base. Only catcher Jody Davis had spent his entire big league career in Chicago. The pitching staff was put together the same way. Rick Sutcliffe came over early in the year from Cleveland (much the same way Hank Borowy had done in 1945, except Borowy came from New York) and won the National League Cy Young Award that season. Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, still a starter, was out of Boston, and Steve Trout had been across town with the White Sox. Warren Brusstar was part of the Phillies contingent and Scott Sanderson had been at Montreal. Even reliever Lee Smith was from St. Louis. But manager Jim Frey (also someone who’d come from another team, Kansas City) wielded all the trades and free agents and pick ups together so that they worked. The Cubs won 96 games, the NL East title and a had a date with the San Diego Padres for the NL crown. Even the first two games were in Wrigley Field. Things were so giddy that there was talk of activating Ernie Banks at the end of the season so he could sit in the dugout during the playoffs (they didn’t activate him, but he was allowed to sit in the dugout).

After two games it looked like the drought might be over. Chicago took game one 13-0 with Sutcliffe both pitching and contributing with one of five Cubs home runs. Game two ended 4-2 for Chicago, but the Cubs were in control from the beginning. All they had to do now was win one game in San Diego and the thirty-nine year World Series-less run would be over.

They lost game three 7-1, a game they’d led 1-0. Well, they still had two more chances. Then they made a major mistake; they decided to pitch to Steve Garvey. In a pivotal game four Garvey went 4 for 5 with five RBIs and a walk off home run as the Padres won 7-5. Which meant it all came down to game five.

Chicago got off to a three run lead when Durham popped a two-run home run in the first and Davis hit a solo shot in the second. San Diego got two of them back in the sixth on two singles, a walk to Garvey, and consecutive sacrifice flies. Then came the bottom of the seventh (the same inning as the later infamous “Bartman” game). With one out, Durham committed an error that tied up the game and from that point the pitching staff simply melted down (same as with the “Bartman” game). A single, a double, and an RBI hit by Garvey plated a total of four runs. The Cubs got two men on in the eighth and one in the ninth, but failed to score any of them. San Diego won 6-3 to secure a date with Detroit in the World Series, where the Tigers proceeded to dismantle them four games to one.

For Chicago it was a disappointment, but it was a critical turn around. After 39 years in the wilderness the Cubs had gotten to postseason. It’s now become a sporadic habit. After 39 non-playoff seasons, the Cubs have made the postseason with some frequency in the last 25 years. With the advent of a two-tier playoff system, they’ve even won a playoff series. It’s true they’ve never been back to the World Series and the Bad Century continues, but they’ve managed to move out of perpetual doldrums into occasional postseason play. For Chicago that’s a celebratory step up. And it’s the closest there is to a happy note on which to end this series.

Congratulations Ron Santo

December 5, 2011

Just saw the the Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee has elected Ron Santo to the Hall. He becomes the 47th person to play for the Cubs to enter the Hall and the fourth member of the 1969 second place Chicago team to make it (Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams are the others). Congratulations to Santo. I only wish the voters had brought him on board while he still lived. This is the first time since his death that he appeared on the ballot. Damned shame.

For your information, Jim Kaat finished second.

Thoughts on the Upcoming Veteran’s Committee Vote, I

November 4, 2011

Ken Boyer's 1955 baseball card

The last post here detailed the list of people on the 2011 Veteran’s Committee ballot for the Hall of Fame. I promised I’d give a thought to the ballot and comment. Here’s the first of three sets of comments.

I’m going to start with the infielders Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Ron Santo. There’s a reason these guys, and the rest of the players on the ballot, are still around 25 years after their retirement for the Veteran’s Committee to assess. All have serious flaws in their career that makes it difficult for some people to put them in the Hall of Fame. For these three it’s a combination of things.

Hodges was arguably the finest first baseman in the 1950s. Johnny Mize was aging, Willie McCovey was just coming up, others just weren’t as good. And that’s part of Hodges’ problem. He’s the best of a weak era. It’s an era dominated by outfielders and catchers, not first basemen (compare it, in reverse, to today). The other part of his problem is that he was never the best player on his team. At best he was third to fifth depending on the year. Campanlla and Snider were almost always better, Robinson was better in the first few years of Hodges’ career, and sporadically Carl Furillo was better. It’s kind of tough to argue that a team goes four or five deep Hall of Fame-wise (and I left out Reese on purpose). In Hodges favor he was a good first baseman, a decent hitter, a member of a truly great team, and his experience managing the Mets and becoming the apostle of the five-man pitching rotation are probably being overlooked by most fans.

Boyer and Santo were both third basemen whose careers seriously overlap, so direct comparisons can be made. They are, beginning with Boyer in the late 1950s and ending with Santo in the early 1970s, the best National League third basemen of their era. OK, maybe Dick Allen was better, but he was a terrible teammate and made Albert Belle look like a wonderful man you’d want to pal around with. Boyer won both a ring and an MVP award (both in 1964), Santo won neither. Santo was probably the better player. Boyer’s good years were shorter, Santo was more likely to be overlooked on his own team because of Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins (and fan favorite, but no longer great player, Ernie Banks). Another problem they have is that the truly finest third baseman of the era, Brooks Robinson, played in the other league and outshone both.

So do I vote for them? Well, yes and no. I would cast a vote for Hodges and for Santo and set Boyer aside. I’ll go so far as to say that I think Santo is probably the best player eligible and not in the Hall of Fame. And in a final point, let me note that all three men are dead. With Cooperstown’s emphasis on Hall of Fame Weekend that may change how the committee votes. If it does, it’s a  great shame.

Nest time I’ll look at the outfielders, or maybe I’ll take the pitchers.

Tall at Short

July 13, 2011

In my last post I answered Bill Miller’s question concerning my evaluation of Derek Jeter as an all-time Yank. Bill actually asked two questions. The second asked my opinion as to Jeter’s position in the shortstop pantheon. So, as I said earlier, I’m not immune from putting my foot solidly in my mouth, so here’s a reply to that query.

First the evaluations of shortstops are more difficult than a lot of positions. By general consensus Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Rickey Henderson, and Barry Bonds (done in the order they arrived in the big leagues) are the top four left fielders. There record as left “fielders”, as opposed to hitters is a mixed bag. Let me ask this, do you seriously care? Probably not. All are in the lineup to hit and it they can catch and throw then you have gravy. But it doesn’t work that way with a shortstop. You can’t just concentrate on his hitting. Fielding matters and fielding stats are most nebulous and imprecise of baseball stats. So you can’t just look at Jeter and say, “Well, sure, he’s better than Ozzie Smith because Smith didn’t hit nearly as well” (Using Smith purely as an example). That may be true, but Smith was twice the fielder that Jeter is (and that’s true of Smith versus almost anyone at short) and so that must be taken into serious consideration. If you decide that Williams and Bonds are a dead tie as hitters, you can use fielding as a way of picking one over the other, but with shortstops you have to consider this stat from the start. So looking at shortstops requires going into the fielding stats minefield.

Secondly, an inordinate number of truly fine shortstops have spent a lot (and I mean a LOT) of time at other positions. Honus Wagner was up for several years before settling at short, Robin Yount and Ernie Banks were both hurt and transfered to other positions (Yount to the outfield and Banks to first base) for significant parts of their career. In fact Banks ended up with more games at first than short, and Yount ended up with more total games in the outfield (but not at any single position in the outfield) than at short. And to give you a contemporary player, Alex Rodriguez has now spent more time at thrid than at short. All this makes it difficult to view a player as a shortstop rather than as an overall players (although doing so year by year instead of via career numbers makes it easier). Besides what do you call Yount, a shortstop of an outfielder? To solve that I went to the Hall of Fame site and looked how they defined a player. They say Yount and Banks are both shortstops (and Willie Stargell a left fielder as opposed to a first baseman–just to give you some idea of what they do). So I decided to add both to my list. I left ARod off (which I know isn’t great for consistency) because he’s still playing and it is possible he will shift back to short and solve the question or will end up spending twice as many games at third and solve the problem that way. As I don’t know what will happen there (“It is always easier to prophesy after the event.”–Winston Churchill) I left him off.

So here’s my thought on the matter. I’ll list my one and two players, then the next three in alphabetical order. I’m certain who I think is first and who is second. Three through five tend to shift around depending on the day, the stats I’m looking at, the latest book I’ve read (the phases of the moon), but I’m reasonably confident which three go there.

1. Honus Wagner. There are a lot of really good shortstops, but Wagner is still head  and shoulders above the rest. Personally, I think the drop from number one to number two is greater at shortstop than at any other position (no offense to number two, below).

2. Cal Ripken. He set the standard for a new kind of shortstop. He was mobile and he had power. He didn’t have the flash of Smith, but he was very adept at playing the hitter in such a way that he very seldom had to make a spectacular play.

3-5. Ernie Banks, Arky Vaughan, Robin Yount. Banks was the prototype for Ripken. It just didn’t take. All three of these are much alike. They are good enough shortstops (I’d rate Yount as the best) with a glove, but all hit very well; Banks for good power, Yount for occasional power. Both Yount and Banks win double MVPs and Vaughan could well have won one.

So where is Jeter? He’s in the next bunch. There are an entire pack of really good quality shortstops that can be rated 6-10. There’s Ozzie Smith, the underrated Alan Trammel, Barry Larkin, Joe Cronin, both Lu Ap’s (Luis Aparicio, Luke Appling), Reese, Rizzuto, Omar Vizquel, and old-timer George Davis who could take the next five slots (and I’m sure I left off at least one deserving candidate). Jeter is one of those that fit right in with this group. Right now I’d certainly put him in the mix, probably very high in that mix. I’m reasonably sure he’s going to move up my food chain. I expect him to end up a top five, possibly as high as third or fourth. But I’m going to wait until the career ends to drop him into a definite hole.

Having said that, he ought to get at least an extra point or two for standing along the first base line, grabbing a badly thrown ball, and flipping to Posada to nail Jeremy Giambi at the plate during the playoffs. Arguably the greatest play I ever saw. For all the overhyping of Derek Jeter (and I’ve been critical of it) he is the closest we’ve had to a baseball icon since the steroid scandal broke. Baseball could surely use one and Jeter has done a good job of filling that role.