In 1959, the Chicago Cubs’ Ernie Banks was coming off of his first Most Valuable Player award. The honor which he won in 1958, was the first time it was given to a player on a team with a losing record. After a spectacular season in ’58, he only improved on it the following season.
The man known as “Mr. Cub” had two of the greatest seasons in team history, two that even hold up to numbers put up in the “live ball” era. In his second MVP season of 1959, Banks put up arguably the best season of his career. How do you top an MYP season? With a better one.
Banks played in all 155 games in the ’59 season. He lost the home run title to Eddie Matthews by only one, led the league in RBIs with 143 (the most since 1937), and at the time set record for fewest errors by a shortstop (12) and highest fielding percentage (.985), both since broken.
The improvement in the field is what help set his MVP campaigns apart. In 1958, he committed 32 errors, the most by a shortstop while posting a fielding percentage of .960. Banks was beat out for the Gold Glove by Roy McMillan (Won first three in history) of the Cincinnati Redlegs. McMillan posted a .974 fielding percentage, but played in only 72 games, as compared to Banks full slate of 155 games.
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Banks struggled at the plate in May, as he watched his average dip to a season low .276 on May 25. He responded by hitting .383 over the next month, with nine home runs and 26 RBIs. Even though Banks was only 28 at the time, playing at Wrigley was constant day game, and more importantly double-headers. The Cubs played 13 of them that year. But he kept the pace, finishing with a WAR (wins above replacement) of 10.2, among one of the highest for MVP winners.
It’s important to remember that Banks won each of these for Cubs teams that had losing records. That in itself was a first. Then he followed it by becoming the first back-to-back MVP in National League history. It didn’t happen again until 1975-’76, when Joe Morgan accomplished the feat for the Cincinnati Reds.
Banks played his entire career with the Chicago Cubs, 19 seasons, without having the joy of ever winning a pennant. My father tells me stories about Banks and his teams often, as those Cubs teams were close on several occasions, none more so than in 1969. His retired number 14 flies from the flagpole in left field, the first number ever retired by the Cubs, along with Ron Santo‘s number 10.
Every time the Cubs have a game rained out, I can’t help but think of Ernie Banks, as it’s one of the few times the chance arises.
“Let’s play two.”