Reading a Good Book Lately

I’m not quite finished with Ron Rapoport’s new Ernie Banks bio (Let’s Play Two: The Legend of Mr. Cub; The Life of Ernie Banks), but since today’s an off-day I’ll offer a thumbnail review based on the first 300+ pages.

I was surprised to learn when he died that Banks was married four times, the golden sombrero of matrimony. The dissolution of #1 included allegations by his first wife of domestic abuse. The fact that he shook them off to become the sunshiny ambassador for baseball that most people conjure at the mention of his name is one of the starkest contrasts the book draws between then and now. I dare say that even if Addison Russell goes on to an illustrious statistical career, he has no shot at an alias anything like Mr. Cub.

The star-crossed season of 1969 yields many other measures of how drastically time gradually changes everything.

A strong case is presented that Durocher caused the Cub collapse that year by wearing his players out in more ways than one.

Hundley caught more than 150 games, including both ends of nine of the team’s 15(!) doubleheaders.

Jenkins started 42 games, but was called a quitter by his manager.

Holtzman was labeled a “gutless Jew” in front of the team.

Banks set a record for RBIs by a 38-year-old despite the campaign waged by Durocher since coming to the Cubs to retire him so he wouldn’t have to share the spotlight.

Leo himself was AWOL six times that season, including once to attend a bachelor party in his own honor.

Not exactly the stuff of Joe Maddon.

I was about to start high school in the summer of ’69 when we landed on the moon and the Cubs too seemed on the verge of historic achievement, only to crash land in September. Half a century later, I chip off a chapter or two a night of a book about the bygone days before lights out, about the time the games start when the Cubs are on a west coast swing. Sometimes I wake up to find a game-winning 9th inning homer by Rizzo under my pillow. Most times not…

 

Comments

He was a hero to me growing up, and now maybe not so much. Sad and probably (?) better how things have changed. I'm sure in the 60s whatever Addison did would have never bubbled up to us fans... But thanks for the review-so-far!

Banks was the first African- American Cub wasn’t he?  Was there a lot of drama with that?  

i think gene baker was technically the first signed, but ernie banks was the first to suit up and play.  baker was injured when ernie made his debut.

He only mentioned his second wife in his autobiography, Mr. Cub.  I was surprised to find out from his Wikipedia page that he had been married before Eloyce (wife #2), having read Mr. Cub back in 1971 right after it came out.  I guess when you write your autobiography, you get to put in only the parts you want to talk about.

CRAIG A: SS Ernie Banks and 2B Gene Baker arrived on the same day in September 1953, although Banks made his MLB game debut three days before Baker.

Banks was 22 years old and had just had his contract purchased from the Kansas City Monarchs (Banks went straight from the Negro American League to MLB), and Baker (who was 28 in 1953) had had his contract purchased from the Monarchs back in 1950 but spent four seasons (1950-53) playing for the Cubs AAA Los Angeles Angels affiliate in the PCL before getting called-up. (Baker was good enough to play in MLB in 1950, but he wasn't a star, and back then an African-American player had to be clearly better than the white player he was replacing to get a chance, or he had to wait for a second African-American player to get called-up, because there always had to be an even number of black players on the roster so that they could room with each other on the road).  

Cubs owner Phil Wrigley was friends with Monarchs owner Tom Baird, and so the Cubs had a pipeline to the Kansas City Monarchs and had first refusal on all Monarchs players. The Cubs acquired several players (most notably Baker, Banks, and George Altman) from the Monarchs prior to Baird selling the team in 1956, but the one they let get away was catcher Elston Howard (who the Monarchs sold to the New York Yankees in 1950). In fact, - ALL - Negro League players acquired by the Cubs 1950-55 (not including ex-Negro Leaguers later acquired by the Cubs from other MLB clubs) played for the Kansas City Monarchs. (The Cubs could wear Monarchs uniforms if they ever want to do a tribute to the Negro Leagues).
 
The Cubs did hire long-time Monarchs player-manager Buck O'Neil as a scout in 1956 (he was the first African-American scout in MLB, and he signed Lou Brock out of Southern University in 1960), and he was also the first African-American coach in MLB (he was a member of the Cubs College of Coaches 1962-65). The College of Coaches utilyzed a "rotating head coach" system in 1961-62, and if Buck O'Neil had been named full-time Cubs Head Coach in 1963 instead of Bob Kennedy, the Cubs probably never would have traded Lou Brock. (Of course there was no way Phil Wrigley was ever going to hire an African-American as a manager... it's a testament to Buck O'Neil that Wrigley hired him as a scout and then as a coach!). 

O'Neil became a scout for the Cubs once again in 1966 (he "discovered" Oscar Gamble in 1968 and convinced the Cubs to draft him) after the College of Coaches was disbanded at the big league level after Leo Durocher became manager in October 1965. (A lot of people don't remember that after Leo Durocher was hired as manager, the Cubs continued with the College of Coaches in the minor leagues well into the 1970's, and in fact today's minor league coordinators and roving instructors can trace their origin to the much-ridiculed Cubs College of Coaches).  

BTW, O'Neil wore #53 while he was a Cubs coach, so if the Cubs want to retire another number someday, that might be one to consider (although it might have been nice to do it while he was still alive!). If I was an African-American player on the Cubs right now I would ask to wear #53, and I would let everyone know why.   

FWIW, while Ernie Banks spent his entire MLB career with the Cubs and (famously) never played in a World Series, Gene Baker was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1957 and was a utility infielder on the 1960 Pirates World Series Championship team. Then in 1963 Baker became the second African-American coach in MLB (a year after Buck O'Neil), and he actually served as "acting manager" for part of a game for the Pirates that season after Danny Murtaugh was thrown out of a game, making Baker -- in a way -- the first African-American MLB manager. 

Thanks very much, Phil.

Thank you, Phil. Have you ever considered doing your own podcast? Your grasp on baseball history is fantastic. 

And 71 games in, the C-Cubs & I-Cubs are in a dead heat @ 39-32...

Thank you, Mike. 

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  • Hagsag 3 hours 44 min ago (view)

    I think we all are ready for some action.

     

  • crunch 4 hours 19 min ago (view)

    winter meetings start tomorrow...guys got into town friday/today.

    the cubs are supposedly looking to tap the trade market for their major moves.  this is the place where it gets done or seeds get planted.

    also, the modern day HOF class will be announced.  marvin miller will most likely get in.  lou whitaker and ted simmons should have some heat, too.

     

  • crunch 18 hours 47 sec ago (view)

    semi-interesting winter league note...

    trey mcnutt (yes, that guy) is having a hell of a winter league in mexico (one of the less talented winter leagues) so far as a closer.  15.2ip 8h 4bb 24k, 0.57 era.

    giants signed him to a minor league deal a couple weeks ago.  he never went anywhere.  he's been consistently playing ball in the minors and indie league ball since he was last a noteworthy player.  last season he played in the OAK minor league system.  30 years old now...

     

  • jdrnym 1 day 57 min ago (view)

    Brad Brach signs with the Mets for $850K but the Cubs are paying $500K, per Ken Rosenthal. Wasn't his 2020 club only supposed to be on the hook for league minimum?

     

  • crunch 1 day 1 hour ago (view)

    when he got to the mets he suddenly learned how to throw with control (small sample size etc).  last year was not a fun bullpen year...

     

  • crunch 1 day 3 hours ago (view)

    Yeah, I've made myself familiar with a lot of the changes, but AZP's posts have both added more information and cleared up stuff I didn't fully grasp.  I appreciate the hell out of it.  Thanks Phil, thanks TCR.

     

  • bradsbeard 1 day 5 hours ago (view)

    Looks like Savant has his breaking pitch classified as a curve while Fangraphs calls it a slider. Suppose by ST he could have made everything over in the pitching lab, so who knows!

     

  • Arizona Phil 1 day 5 hours ago (view)

    Again, none of these rules (including the one that requires a pitcher to face a minimum of three batters or else record the final out of the inning) have been officially approved.  

    I think one possible caveat that might be added to the three-batter minimum rule would be that the pitcher can be replaced prior to facing three batters or recording the final out of the inning if the other team puts up a pinch-hitter. 

     

  • Arizona Phil 1 day 5 hours ago (view)

    Ptchers would also be treated differently under the new rules as far as the Injured list and Optional Assignment to the minors is concerned, with pitchers having to spend at least 15 days (up from 10 days) on the Injured List before being eligible to be reinstated and at least 15 days (up from 10 days) on Optional Assignment before being eligible to be recalled (inless the pitcher is being recalled to replace a pitcher on the 26-man roster who has been placed on an MLB inactive list).  

     

  • Arizona Phil 1 day 5 hours ago (view)

    SONICWIND: As the rule is proposed, prior to the start of each MLB regular season a club must designate all players on its Opening Day 26-man roster as either a "pitcher" or a "position player." A maximum of 13 can be designated as pitchers (14 pitchers max when rosters expand from 26 to 28 beginning on 9/1). 

    For players who come up during the season, the club must designate the player as either a pitcher or a position player when the player is placed on the MLB active list roster. 

     

  • Arizona Phil 1 day 6 hours ago (view)

    BRADSBEARD: Fangraphs shows the CT as his primary pitch in 2018 with the SL & FB (and an occasional CH) as his secondary pitches, with no CV at all. I guess I'll find out for sure in Spring Training. 

     

  • Sonicwind75 1 day 7 hours ago (view)

    AZ Phil, thank you as always for the detailed information.  How is the "cannot be a pitcher" part of the rule to be enforced?  With a few two way players and the increasing amount of mop up innings being handled by position players it seems like there could be a gray area there.  What is preventing a team from stashing an athletic relief pitcher as a "5th outfielder" that could be a pinch runner and play a passable OF when needed but could also provide them with extra relief pitcher.  Anytime I hear of a new rule I always think of how Bill Billichek would circumvent it t

     

  • bradsbeard 1 day 7 hours ago (view)

    AZ Phil, looking around Baseball Savant, it looks like Winkler now primarily throws a low 90s cutter, a 4-seamer that he throws a little harder (but is less effective), a curve and a sinker. The slider and change haven't been a major part of his repertoir the last two years. The cutter has been really effective the last two years but it looks like he lost command/effectiveness of his 4-seemer and curve last year For whatever reason  

     

  • bradsbeard 1 day 10 hours ago (view)

    They just signed this guy:

    https://twitter.com/mlbastian/status/1202973097223237632

     

  • Hagsag 1 day 11 hours ago (view)

    There seems to be a lot of player movement so far. Too bad the Cubs aren't involved.

     

  • Arizona Phil 2 days 3 hours ago (view)

    Beginning in 2019, a club must wait a minimum of seven days before it can place a player who was claimed off Outtright Assignment Waivers during the off-season back onto waivers, so because he was claimed off waivers on Wednesday 11/27, yesterday (Wednesday 12/4) was the first day the Cubs could place LHRP C. D. Pelham back onto Outright Assignment Waivers, and so tomorrow (Friday 12/6) is the first day the Cubs can send Pelham outright to the minors (if he was placed back onto waivers yesterday).