Ernie Banks

Just How Good Was Ernie Banks?

A lot of ink has been spilled the last few days remembering and honoring the late, great Ernie Banks. Besides being, by all acounts, a wonderful person and ambassador for the game, he was also undoubtedly one of the best baseball players ever, as his many accolades attest. First Ballot Hall of Famer. 14X All Star. Two-Time National League MVP. Gold Glove Winner. His appearances on the major career leaderboards further illustrate his legacy. More than 40 years after he retired he is still 22nd in Home Runs, 29th in RBI, 35th in Extra Base Hits, 34th in Total Bases, 14th in Intentional Walks. More advanced metrics paint an even stronger picture: Banks is in the top 100 all time in Runs Created, Win Probability Added, and MVP Shares, and Baseball Reference has him ranked as the 119th best player in baseball history and the 82nd best position player in history by WAR.

What makes all of this even more impressive is that Banks really had two careers. The first was as an elite short stop. The second, following a knee injury, was as an above average first baseman. While he continued to put up impressive counting stats and had a few good seasons after the switch, the vast majority of his career value occurred prior to the move. To illustrate, Banks accumulated 54.8 WAR through 1961 (his age 30 season) and then only 12.3 WAR over his remaining 10 seasons. His early peak was so good, if he had simply retired following the 1961 season he would still rank as the 146th best position player of all time--just between Enos Slaughter and Billy Herman, two Hall of Famers.

To more deeply examine just how talented Banks was in his prime, I examined his peak WAR at short stop historically. I followed the Baseball Reference definition of "peak" as a player's 7 best seasons--but I restricted it to a player's seven best season at short stop (a season in which they played more games at SS than any other position). The 7 seasons did not have to be consecutive, though in Banks' case they were. From 1954-1960 Banks was primarily a short stop and he accumulated 49.7 WAR. You can see in the table below how he stacks up historically. If you had to select a short stop and could select any player in history in the prime or peak of his career, Banks would certainly be a top five pick, behind only Wagner, A-Rod, Ripken, and Vaughan.


I never thought Ernie Banks passing would affect me like this. I'm not the type to be openly weeping but I am. Listening to the radio and hearing story after story of people that wanted to share their personal stories of meeting Ernie and the uplifting impact he had on everyone he touched. We are all little kids somewhere inside and Ernie was magic when it came to Cub fans. He was Chicago's treasure from the 1950's to the present.

The Top 10 Best Seasons Ever by a Cub

As part of this Cubs history kick that started with Wiklifield, I had this idea of trying to figure out what was the best individual season by a member of the Cubs. As I started pouring through the research I decided that the burden of annointing the best Cubs' season ever was too much for this humble Cubs fan. Now I realize as a blogger and top 10 list-maker, I'm suppose to just present my opinion as fact and not accept any other arguments, but I decided for this instance to enlist the rest of the TCR writers.

I put together a list of 27 great Cubs seasons and put it to a vote and would weigh it MVP-style (10 pts for a first place vote, 9 for a second place vote, etc). The criteria for this list were all the Cubs' NL MVP seasons and Cy Young winners and then the best of the rest based on sabermetric dominance in either WARP-3 or Win Shares (Lee in 2005) , historical signifcance  (Wilson's RBI record in 1930) or place in Cubs history (Sutcliffe in 1984). Now there may have been a few names that deserved to be in that
original top 27 list over some other names, but I'm sure I didn't miss
the top season. As I mentioned in the poll, just think of it as the
NCAA tournament...there's a lot of arguments on who deserved to be in
the original 65 picks, but those that are left out never really had a
chance to win the whole thing. 

The only instruction I laid out for their votes was to use whatever
criteria each writer saw fit. Some of us have a sabermetric slant to
the world, some like MVP trophies, some just remember what we saw and
its impact at the time and so forth and so on. Transmission, Cubnut, Dr. Hecht and myself ended up participating and our ballots are listed at the end of the post. The final results for the readers voting is also at the end. We by no means believe this is the list to rule all lists, but it was an interesting exercise nonetheless. I mean if Arizona Phil or Christian had submitted their ballots, the final results could have been very different. Also, we tend to believe with our eyes and hearts and I don't think any of us saw much baseball before 1950 - and for some of us - not much before 1980. Speaking for myself, I had a hard time giving double credit for a player, generally focusing on what I felt to be their best season, even if they had a second or third great season that deserved to be recognized. But this is more art than science and the final results certainly are skewed by a small sample size.

Recent comments

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  • I'm guessing 3/30 and all the two foot long hot dogs you can eat didn't work

  • Yes! In a 12-way tie for first!

  • Shit.

    Blew my prediction! I had them signing Zimmerman and trading for another arm.

  • Damn wanted Zimmermann

  • Yeah, this market. Remember when Ted Lilly signed a 4/$40m with the Cubs? It was like "Well, I guess if you can throw a ball, that's what the 3 and 4 starters are all getting." I'm glad I'm not a GM. Of course, they're spending our money...

  • in this market that seems like a decent deal relative to the market.

    given that d.price will probably get 30m-ish a year, 22m for 29yo zimm doesn't seem bad. i wouldn't complain about him suiting up for the cubs. one less option gone...

  • Zimmermann 5/$110m with Tigers. Youch.

    And the updated predications page:

  • Cubs 3B Christian Villanueva (who is out of minor league options) is hitting 358/464/500 for Obregon in the Mexican Pacific League (LMP), and is leading the LMP in OBP, is second in BAvg and walks, is seventh in SLG, and is tied for 8th in HR. He also has struck out only 16 times in 175 PA. 

  • CTSteve, thanks for spelling Zimmermann correctly. We don't need another first baseman.

  • The media has linked Cueto and the Cubs approximately zero times this winter. I'm thinking there's just not a lot of interest there on the Cubs' part. It seems unlikely.

    If the Cubs miss on Price, Grienke, and Zimmerman, they will aim for a mid-rotation starter via free agency or trade. However, I think this scenario also significantly boosts the odds that they extend Arrieta.

  • The Tigers are going after Zimmermann and the Red Sox will be throwing money at Price. Bringing Cueto back to the NL with the Cubs is looking like a serious possibility. Thoughts?

  • Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe in the financial impact to the Red Sox for not signing Jon Lester early in the free agent process:

    It will be interesting to ultimately add up the cost of letting Jon Lester go.

    The Red Sox botched up their negotiations with Lester in during spring training of 2014, making an initial offer of $70 million that was roughly $40 million short of what it should have been. Talks broke down and Lester was traded in July.

  •'re flip-flopping again?!

    Is this legal? What is the rule here on opining definitively and then changing your mind?

    I am not only surprised at your declaration, but Cutler's better 2015 showing. I don't get it - he went through Martz, Turner, Trestman, Kromer, and now Gase...and he is still here! And. he'll be here mext year too.

  • Happ signs w Jays

    Morsi saying Price won't be a Jay

  • needs more d.beeler and e.jokisch

  • As an Illinois tax payer I appreciate what they r doing