Chicks dig the long ball.
That was the popular refrain we all heard during the 1990s.
But Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame slugger Ernie Banks said he and Hall of Fame teammate Billy Williams played the game with the intention of trying to help their team win in whatever way possible, not necessarily by concentrating on hitting home runs.
“I now see that the home run is the greatest marketing tool. I learned that from (former Cubs marketing director) John McDonough,” said Banks. “Not a no-hitter or a one-hitter. The home run was it. The home run became the biggest ticket there is. I am amazed that I hit (512) home runs. This has become a big issue now.
“I came up from the Kansas City Monarchs (of the Negro League), where I didn’t hit many home runs,” said Banks. “Then when I came into the majors (in ’53), I didn’t think about hitting home runs. But Monte Irvin and Ralph Kiner and Hank Sauer…they were hitting home runs. I was a skinny little kid and nobody thought I could hit home runs. I was surprised, too. I hit 19 home runs in ’54. Every time I hit a home run I was really surprised. But when I saw Wrigley Field, I said: ‘Wow, this is a nice place to play.’”
Mark McGwire, now the hitting coach for the Cardinals, hit 70 home runs in 1998 with the assistance of steroids.
“I met Mark McGwire in California. He went to USC, the same school my son went to, although he was ahead of him,” said Banks. “(McGwire) was a quiet guy. He was a pitcher. Then he played for Oakland. I went to the World Series in ’88 and saw him hit the ball there. It was amazing to me to see him hit so many home runs.”
Banks is a member of the 500 Home Run Club without any artificial assistance.
“As far as my records, I know a lot of guys think about this. I know Reggie (Jackson) does,” said Banks. “These guys passed my record like nothing…like I was a high school player. (They hit) 512 home runs in their fourth or fifth year or something. They went past me and Eddie Murray, Eddie Mathews, Mel Ott…they just went past us like nothing. Sammy (Sosa) hit 60 three times.
“I know you’re talking about steroids assisted these kids in doing this, but knowing them and seeing them in their workout facilities and the trainers and all of that…I always thought they could do it without any steroids."
The always genial Banks is loathe to cast blame on the sluggers who abused steroids.
“I like the guys; I like all of these guys. I have met them and talked to them and been with them and met some of their families. I met Sammy’s wife and I went to dinner with them and played golf with them. I just know them and they are like brothers to me. I’m just saying I have a lot of empathy for them. A lot of times in sports you can get the feeling that you are Superman. You start believing that stuff. It changes people at times. I know a lot of people felt that Sammy saved the game of baseball…he and Mark McGwire. When the game was losing some of its steam, they came through and hit those home runs, and to me it was kind of exciting. Watching Sammy doing it here and Mark doing it over in St. Louis- two players not too far from each other…it was pretty powerful.”