Year Inducted: 1977 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 321/383)
When the Cubs won the World Series this year, many people felt it was vindication for a lot of their greatest players that either never got to play in the World Series or even a postseason series. Players like Ron Santo, Ryne Sandberg, Fergie Jenkins never got to play in the World Series for the Cubs, and the team made absolutely sure to honor their past legends during the World Series. Unfortunately, the greatest Cub of all-time didn’t live to see his team bring home the trophy. That player was, of course, Ernie Banks.
Banks was known as Mr. Cub for a reason. In a career spent entirely in the Windy City, Banks hit .274/.330/.500 with a wRC+ of 118. While the overall slashline doesn’t look great, it’s important to remember that Banks gained fame as a shortstop, and ended his career with a whopping 512 homers, 404 doubles and 90 triples. Banks was, for the most part, the only good player on the Cubs for his tenure, so RBI opportunities were not as common as for other great players. However, Banks still drove in over 1600 runs and scored over 1300 to help cement him as a great player. While he wasn’t a great runner (-7 runs on the bases), Banks still managed to steal 50 bases in his career.
In truth, Banks is really a tale of two careers. When he first came up as a power hitting shortstop (and the first African American Cub player), he was one of the top players in the league, winning 2 MVPs while playing on a losing team. From 1953-1961, Banks hit .290/.353/.552 with a wRC+ of 133, with the 5th most fWAR in baseball for that period (Mantle, Mays, Mathews and Aaron). Banks was also a great fielder at shortstop, being worth 124.5 runs defensively in that period. Then, while playing the outfield for some reason, injured his knee in Candlestick Park and had to switch to first base permanently. From 1962 until the end of his career, Banks still hit for power, but his overall line dipped down to .258/.306/.448 with a wRC+ of only 103. Banks would occasionally have a good season, but his real dominance was gone.
In his prime, Banks was the best shortstop in the game, and the best hitting shortstop since Honus Wagner. The power he displayed at shortstop, along with some great defense, was an amazing combination. Banks may have become a merely very good player over the last half of his career, but his early career was more than enough to put up one of the finest careers of all-time. His switch to first may have diminished his WAR, but Banks outproduced his advanced numbers by a considerable margin. It’s sad that he couldn’t be there in person to witness the team that he dedicated his life to finally win a World Series, but Banks surely is celebrating with Santo and Carray after the long wait was over.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck 11/29/15:
#43- This Hall of Famer may have been a terrible announcer, but was an amazing second baseman.
#42- Mr Tiger