While many would say Alex Rodriguez sets the standard for home run hitting infielder and Albert Pujols (who is 7-for-9 this year when the bases are loaded with 5 grand slams—tying Ernie Banks for the most grand slams in a season in the National League) is the most dominant hitter in baseball. Both of these outstanding talents are merely following in the footsteps of the Hall-of-Fame shortstop who was thrilling crowds with both his power and his natural hitting ability two decades earlier – “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks.
More than 20 years before “A-Rod” was born in the Dominican Republic,
on July 27, 1975, Banks was helping to prove to the world that 1)
cultural diversity was the future of Major League Baseball and 2)
infielders could be dominant power hitters.
Before re-writing the
Cubs’ record books and inking his own unmatched place in Chicago
history, Banks had already claimed a unique place in MLB history by
becoming only the second player (following Jackie Robinson) to
successfully transition from the Negro Leagues to Major League
His momentous ascent to the big leagues, and his dynamic
personality and playing style, brought increased media attention
including cover stories in JET magazine and many others. Throw in the
fact that Cubs games were televised on Chicago’s powerhouse WGN radio
and TV, which reached well beyond the Chicago market…and it’s no wonder
that Ernie was a huge fan favorite and tremendous influence for
generations of Americans.
But, according to Ernie, he was just
following the example set by Jackie Robinson, the man and the ball
player. “Like most every black person in America, I was genuinely
inspired by what Jackie [Robinson] had done by breaking into the
majors,” Banks said. “The main thing Jackie told me was to ‘Listen to
everything going on around you [in the majors]. So I barely said
anything at first…I just listen and learned.”
And, like Jackie R.,
the man who would come to be known as “Mr. Cub” understood he was an
everyday role model for millions of African Americans. “It's a kind of
philosophy of my own life, to create the energy enough to keep on
going,” Banks said. “I always loved what I was doing, had a passion
Switched to a Lighter Bat and Became a Great Home Run Hitter
6'1" and 175 lb, Banks was not your prototypical power hitter. He was
considered big for a shortstop, but Ernie was a wrist hitter, which was
where his power came from. "I was using a thirty four ounce bat, and I
couldn't get it around fast enough," Ernie once told a reporter. The
pitchers were stopping me on outside pitches.
Then one day in
1955, he picked up Monte Irvin’s bat and hefted it. 'Hmm,' he said to
himself. 'This feels good.'" Monte Irvin used a thirty-one ounce bat
with a thin handle, a weapon against pitchers that Banks could use it
almost like a buggy whip. It was after he switched to a lighter bat
that Banks became a home run hitter.
A few years later, in 1958,
Banks led the majors with 47 long balls. During the six years from
1955-1960 Banks hit 44, 28, 43, 47, 45, and 41 home runs, which topped
the totals of Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays for that time
period. He ended his career with 11 All-Star Game appearances, two
National League MVP awards and the undying admiration of millions of
Through it all, he never lost sight of what drew
him to play professional baseball. “Awards mean a lot, but they don’t
say it all,” Banks was quoted as saying. “The people in baseball mean
more to me than statistics.
NL MVP Award winner Ernie Banks shows he is a good sport and deserved to represent the league.