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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  • JustSayin' 3 days 7 hours ago (view)

     I hear you but welcome to the world of Theo.  The team is always a step or two away from the World Series in his mind, whether that is true or not.  Therefore, the thing to do on the margin is to trade top prospects or younger guys on the roster for that missing puzzle piece, not build for the future.  I had a front-row seat for this as a Red Sox fan.  If Pedro Martinez doesn't insist the Red Sox sign David Ortiz for table scraps and Chris Bryant isn't the no-brainer second pick in the draft, we'd all be wondering what happened to that Theo guy who was in the Red S

     

  • Cubster 3 days 8 hours ago (view)

    Shogo Akiyama is a lefty bat, career BA at.301 w/ Seibu Lions.  Recent OBPs: .419, .385, .398, .403 and .392. HR 20-15 in last 3 seasons Stolen bases, 12 in 2019, 18 in best season (2016). Defense supposedly plus-plus, 7-10 assists (10 in 2016). Clearly a leadoff hitter.

     

  • crunch 4 days 1 hour ago (view)

    christian yelich committed internet homicide on yu darvish...

    https://twitter.com/ChristianYelich/status/1195462...

     

  • Charlie 4 days 5 hours ago (view)

    Little in the offseason could make me happier than the Cubs finding ways to retain the good MLB players who came up with them while remaining competitive. This Javy extension talk makes me much happier as a fan than the Bryant and Contreras trade talk.

     

  • crunch 4 days 6 hours ago (view)

    "Javy Baez. The two-time All-Star shortstop and 2018 MVP runner-up already has begun negotiations on a potential long-term extension with the Cubs, according to sources."

    also, some talk of being linked to shogo akiyama (CF, Japan, 32yo in April)

    https://chicago.suntimes.com/cubs/2019/11/15/20966...

     

  • crunch 5 days 2 hours ago (view)

    j.odorizzi accepted his qualifying offer (17.8m) from MIN...so did j.abreu (CWS)....everyone else is gonna play the FA market.

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  • crunch 6 days 2 hours ago (view)

    nice.

    it's not like i think he's something special, but if he had 5mph more on his stuff he'd probably be a top prospect in the system combined with his command/control.  he's got highly repeatable junk and he's still young enough there might be a little more velocity to discover.

     

  • Arizona Phil 6 days 5 hours ago (view)

    CRUNCH: As long as Carrera is placed on the AAA Iowa reserve list on 11/20 he should be safe from selection, and I would say he is in fact close to a lock to be placed on the Iowa roster.

    Presuming he is on the Iowa reserve list going into the Rule 5 Draft, I doubt very much that he would get selected in the Major League Phase because he hasn't pitched above Lo-A. 

     

  • crunch 6 days 5 hours ago (view)

    nice info...

    i'm low-key keeping an eye on faustino carrera if he's not protected...which he may not be protected.

    he throws junk, but he throws it well, and with great control.

     

  • Arizona Phil 6 days 6 hours ago (view)

    I've talked to Player Development people over the past many years about the Rule 5 Draft and how an organization goes about deciding whether to protect or not protect a player from selection. 

    STEP 1: How many of your Rule 5 Draft-eligible players are actually legit candidates to get selected in the Major League Phase?. Usually there a dozen or more who could conceivably/realisticaly get selected. You need to identify them and then carefully evaluate them. 
    EXAMPLES: See my lists above. 

     

  • crunch 6 days 8 hours ago (view)

    "There are no untouchables," Epstein said.

    In truth, the Cubs boss has said the same every year, but it certainly sounds like he means it this time. "We're in the 'information collecting' stages of the process," one general manager put it on Tuesday.

    https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/28066390/there...

     

  • Dolorous Jon Lester 1 week 11 hours ago (view)

    I think, in relation to the higher profile guys like Javy or Contreras, they're trying to put some pressure on to sign extensions.

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  • crunch 1 week 1 day ago (view)

    i wonder where the cubs will go with things.

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    bryant, contreras, schwarber have all been linked to "cubs may be listening" rumors...probably listening to anything on happ, bote, almora, russell, too...

     

  • Hagsag 1 week 1 day ago (view)

    Even the Cubs should be able to out bid the Marlins!

     

  • crunch 1 week 1 day ago (view)

    "According to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, the Marlins are "believed" to have interest in free agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos."

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  • Arizona Phil 1 week 1 day ago (view)

    Prior to joining the Cubs in 2012 Scott Harris was Director of Baseball Operations in the MLB office, which means he received, reviewed, and approved all major league and minor league contracts and transactions, as well as providing MLB clubs with schedules, rules updates, and draft information.