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' 6 hours 24 min ago (view)

    The organizations will cut rosters down, as if the full-season teams were breaking camp to start the season, THEN pay the remaining minor leaguers $400/week or whatever.  That's similar to what costs would have normally been but the "one last chance" players who got spring training invitations this year and didn't have an obvious roster spot won't be getting their last chance.

     

  • crunch 7 hours 56 min ago (view)

    "According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, all minor league players will be receiving $400 per week from MLB through at least May 31."

    so that's where that promise landed.  the scary thing is that's still more than some in the low minors make on a weekly basis.

     

  • crunch 3 days 17 min ago (view)

    "Jeff Passan of ESPN writes that the players and league agreed that the 2020 season won't start until "there are no bans on mass gatherings that limit the ability to play in front of fans, there are no travel restrictions and medical experts determine games will not pose a risk to health of teams and fans." Passan does add that the two sides "will consider the feasibility of playing in empty stadiums" and also at neutral sites.

     

  • crunch 3 days 6 hours ago (view)

    i miss baseball.  it could happen in june...it may happen in late may...it might not happen either way.

    there's so many things getting messed up right now i would get lost making a list.  there's some college guys making a serious "okay, we need to look at that guy" push that's dead.  former cubs draft pick russell smith (2017, LHP highschool) took last season off for injury (TCU college) and returned with a low 90s fastball, impressive control, and a MLB-quality changeup.  his "comeback" was 4 games and done thanks to this current situation...

     

  • JustSayin' 3 days 8 hours ago (view)

    COVID 19 + a short draft + Manfred's obsessive drive to shrink the minor leagues will change baseball forever.  It WAS still America's grass roots sport.  Where I live, from June through August, you could see a quality live game any day of the week, within an hour's drive.  I believe that era is over.  What's going on will have ripple effects, contracting serious college ball, college summer leagues and independent pro ball just as much as the MiLB systems.  With those changes, some of the game's charm will also go.  I've seen a kid from Cape Cod play in the Ca

     

  • crunch 4 days 6 hours ago (view)

    fyi for anyone who bought MLB.tv

    for "some reason" getting a cancel+refund via phone is like pulling teeth, but if you contact them via a webpage contact request many people are getting a cancel+refund confirmation within an hour or 2...

     

  • bradsbeard 4 days 13 hours ago (view)

    I imagine because the new labor agreement freezes rosters as of whenever the agreement is approved by the owners and it might affect what those guys are paid under the agreement. 

     

  • Hagsag 4 days 15 hours ago (view)

    AZ Phil. what was the reason that a whole bunch of teams optioned or assigned players to the minor leagues yesterday on March 26 ? Thanks.

     

  • Arizona Phil 4 days 19 hours ago (view)

    jdrnym: Ordinarily, players on an MLB Reserve List (40-man roster) who are on Optional Assignment to the minors do not accrue MLB Service Time, are paid at the minor league rate rather than at the MLB rate if the player has a "split" contract, and if the player gets hurt or becomes sick after being optioned, he can be placed on a minor league IL instead of on an MLB IL (so that he cannot accrue MLB Service Time or be paid at the MLB rate while he is on the IL). Also, a player who is optioned to the minors for at least 20 days will burn an option year.   

     

  • jdrnym 5 days 8 hours ago (view)

    AZPhil, what are the technical ramifications of optioning/not optioning guys during this period of no baseball? Seems like some teams are more eager than others to trim their roster down.

     

  • crunch 6 days 11 hours ago (view)

    "Major League Baseball has agreed with the MLBPA to grant a full year of service time to players in 2020 regardless of how many games the schedule includes.

    Rosenthal adds, however, that the two sides have agreed to "table discussions" on how much service time the players would receive if the worst-case scenario plays out and the 2020 season has to be canceled entirely due to the coronavirus pandemic."

    ---

     

  • bradsbeard 1 week 1 day ago (view)

    This one has me scratching my head too. Surely they knew Lakins would have a hard time clearing waivers. Hate to just lose Pereda like that. Feels like they gave up more for Lakins than for Sadler, and I'm guessing Sadler might have been slightly more likely to clear waivers since he's out of options. 

     

  • Arizona Phil 1 week 1 day ago (view)

    I think the most puzzling aspect to the Travis Lakins Caper is that the only plausible reason for the Cubs to have struck a pre-emptive trade with the Red Sox instead of waiting and hoping to win a waiver claim is that the Cubs believed that another club with a better waiver claim priority would almost certainly claim him. So to ensure that they would be able to acquire Lakins, the Cubs must have offered the Red Sox something more than the $50,000 waiver price, otherwise there would have been no point in the Red Sox agreeing to the deal. 

     

  • crunch 1 week 1 day ago (view)

    RedSox acquire catcher Jhonny Pereda from the #Cubs, completing the January 21 trade for RHP Travis Lakins

    ...cubs lost lakins on waivers to BAL, btw

     

  • erich081 1 week 1 day ago (view)

    I wore my Rick Wilkins #2 shirsey today and kept thinking real baseball was only a week away. And then I remembered this weird alternate reality we've seemed to have slipped into. Hope everyone stays healthy and safe.

     

  • Hagsag 1 week 2 days ago (view)

    I am installing a padded room to sit in until this hell is over.