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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  • crunch 1 day 4 hours ago (view)

    j.girardi did a 2nd interview with PHI on Monday and he's supposedly the favorite for the job.

     

  • bradsbeard 1 day 9 hours ago (view)

    The draft over the ASB and the trade deadline pushed back until August 15th or so would make sense. Otherwise, I don't know how scouting departments are going to handle the draft lead up and the trade deadline running almost simultaneously.  

     

  • Arizona Phil 1 day 9 hours ago (view)

    One other thing about MLB player development that is very different from NFL, NBA, and NHL player development is that most MLB clubs have upwards of 300 minor league players under contract (not including players on their MLB 40-man roster, the Cubs presently have 301 minor leaguers under contract on nine minor league affiliates).

     

  • Arizona Phil 1 day 9 hours ago (view)

    JUST SAYIN: MLB is the only one of the four major North American professional sports that holds its draft and signs its draft picks during the season.

     

  • crunch 1 day 18 hours ago (view)

    umpire eric cooper has died...complications from knee surgery (blood clot)...52 years old

     

  • crunch 2 days 5 hours ago (view)

    "MLB Network's Jon Heyman reports former player David Ross and Astros bench coach Joe Espada "appear to be the frontrunners" for the Cubs' managerial opening."

    espada's had 2 interviews.  for a guy who's actively at his "other job," having a 2nd interview seems like both sides want to make this work.  SF and PIT are also supposedly interested in espada.

     

  • JustSayin' 2 days 7 hours ago (view)

     That's a fair description of the benefits of the plan but If I have to choose between "better way" and "owners' greed," I pick the latter.  MLB wants better MiLB facilities, on average, without paying a cent.  They want to deal with the social and legal pressure they are getting for not even paying minor league players minimum wage per real hour worked by having less players.  In addition, the draft is to be moved to late August, so every draftee would lose compensation for the stub year in which they are drafted.  For this reason, I'm not sure your point about col

     

  • Hagsag 2 days 7 hours ago (view)

    Thanks Mr. Phil.

     

  • Arizona Phil 2 days 8 hours ago (view)

    HAGSAG: Besides reducing the costs that are associated with operating a minor league club, reducing the number of minor league affiliates would allow MLB organizations to increase the salaries of their remainng minor league players (who would be the organization's most-legit prospects) without having to increase the organization's aggregate minor league payroll. 

     

  • crunch 2 days 8 hours ago (view)

    The discussions on this matter have been quite varried.  There seems to be a lot of pressure connected to this on minor league team owners who haven't upgraded their facilities/park in a while or who lag in quality compared to their competitors.

    It seems like this would not only cause some teams to fold, but some radical redistribution of existing teams/cities into new minor league levels rather than just pruning some teams over others.

     

  • Hagsag 2 days 21 hours ago (view)

    AZ Phil, what are your thoughts on the discussion to eliminate 42 low minor league teams in 2021? What would this do to the Dominican League? Thanks.

     

  • crunch 3 days 3 hours ago (view)

    yanks/astros game 6 was a f'n classic.  wow.

    altuve continues to build his astros legend.

     

  • bradsbeard 3 days 17 hours ago (view)

    Thanks for this. I agree they’ll probably take their chances in the Rule 5 if he will resign, though I really wouldn’t mind adding him back to the 40 man. I feel like he has a good chance to be effective out of the bullpen. 

     

  • bradsbeard 3 days 17 hours ago (view)

    I hope Sagara doesn’t end up leaving because of the shakeup. The Athletic did report that his position might be eliminated but that he should be offered another role in the organization somewhere. All I know is Sagara’s name came up frequently in connection with the pitch lab, and he was credited for improvements with Ryan, Wick, and Wieck. Maybe he’ll end up focusing more specifically in that role helping guys tweak things in the lab. 

     

  • JustSayin' 4 days 5 hours ago (view)

    Does anyone have insight into the new management hires and musical chairs the Cubs announced yesterday?  Craig Breslow might be the only guy out there with extensive MLB experience AND the grey matter to challenge any quant not making sense. His role intrigues me but are they going to give him real responsibility to clear out the deadwood (including the existing minor league coordinator who was never good enough to be the pitchers he's coaching?)  Or, is this a superficial change aimed at keeping ownership off Theo's back? 

     

  • Arizona Phil 4 days 6 hours ago (view)

    BRADSBEARD: I think the Cubs want to retain Oscar de la Cruz post-2019, just not on the MLB 40-man roster.