Countdown to Opening Day: 14 Days…No. 14 Ernie Banks


Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer

Ernie Banks

(right) is the best Cub player ever, without question. He wore #14 best, and last after his number was retired in 1973. Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

14 Days to Opening Day and a look at the number 14 in Cubbie blue starts and ends with one man – Ernie Banks. It is pretty simple, let’s talk about Ernie Banks.

There is only one award you only have one shot to win, Rookie of the Year award. This is one of the few awards Banks didn’t win in his unbelievable career. In his 1954 rookie season, Banks finished second in the voting – losing to St. Louis Cardinals’ Wally Moon. Hank Aaron finished fourth with the Milwaukee Braves, just to put some perspective on how good the rookie class was in 1954.

What’s amazing about the trophies Banks collected over his career is that he did it on a team that was bad. They were awful for years at a time during Banks’ tenure. Nonetheless, Banks picked up two MVP awards (back-to-back 1958 and 1959) along with 11 All-Star bids, three other seasons when he was in the top six in MVP voting – and don’t forget he did win a Gold Glove in 1960 on a team that finished 60-94. His MVP awards were on teams that finished with 72 and 74 wins in 1958 and 1959, finishing in sixth and fifth place in the standings, respectively.

Banks put up video game numbers before there were video games. He averaged 44 home runs a year from 1957 to 1960. He also hit double-digit home runs each season from 1954 to 1970. Banks walked 48 combined times in 1959 and 1960. The Cub lineup in 1959 featured Banks, a 37-year old Dale Long, and 23-year old Tony Taylor as the only other real bat the Cubs had and you wonder – how did Banks not get intentionally walked more often?

Fast forward Banks’ career just 20 years and you have to wonder if he would have been a Cub for as long as he was during his actual career. In the days of free agency, at what point would Banks have tired of winning MVP awards on sixth place teams? Loyalty is a term that gets thrown around loosely, at times. Laughably, the games’ all-time home run leader, Barry Bonds, was a part of a baseball resurgence in Pittsburgh and came close to a World Series three years running in the early 1990’s. Then came 1993 when the Pirates were supposed to slip back. Bonds was a goner.

There has never been anyone quite like Ernie Banks. Not in Chicago, with the Cub nor in baseball. He had an attitude about the game that many try to emulate, but never duplicate. It didn’t matter if the sun was out, if it was 75 degrees or 45 degrees, cloudy or windy – you name the weather pattern, Chicago has it on an annual basis.

All he wanted to do was play baseball and play it he did, for 19 incredible years. The only thing that could’ve made Banks happier than playing a baseball game on a nice, sunny summer day – was to play two baseball games on a nice, sunny summer day. It happened on occasion, but Banks would’ve done it everyday if given the opportunity.

Imagine the numbers he would have put if he had gotten his wish.