Friday, January 31, 2014

JOBC Cubs Almanac--January 31

Today's Featured Cub: Ernie Banks

On this day in 1931, Ernie Banks was born. 22 years later he became the first African American player to play for the Chicago Cubs.

The way he became a Cub is almost a fluke. At the end of the 1953 season, Gene Baker was called up to be the first African-American Cubs player. Ernie was signed shortly thereafter from the Kansas City Monarchs. They signed Ernie strictly because they needed another black player to room with Baker. If they didn’t have Baker, they wouldn't have signed Banks. They honestly had no idea what they were getting in Banks, either. One of the Cubs coaches, Ray Blades, gave Ernie a book called "How to play baseball" even though he had hit .380 for the Monarchs.

Banks only got in the lineup first because Baker was hurt (he got into a game three days later). At the time, inserting Banks into the lineup was a very controversial move, because shortstop was considered a "thinking man's" position, and Banks was the first African-American in Major League history to play shortstop on a regular basis.

Needless to say, it worked out just fine.

In a little known bit of trivia, he also was the first African-American manager. When manager Whitey Lockman was kicked out of a game in 1974, Ernie was the acting manager for one inning. Frank Robinson became the first full-time African American manager just a few months later.

Ernie Banks was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977.

Today's Featured Baseball Card: Ernie Banks

(1955 Bowman Baseball Card)

This card features the stats from his rookie season of 1954: 593 at bats, 70 runs, 163 hits, 19 doubles, 7 triples, 19 homers, 78 RBI, and a .275 batting average. He finished second in the Rookie of the Year vote behind Wally Moon of the Cardinals.

Nickname of the Day: Mr. Cub

Why do they call Ernie Banks Mr. Cub? Ernie is among the top 5 all-time Cubs in games played (1st), at bats (1st), hits (2nd), runs (5th), doubles (3rd), home runs (2nd), and RBI (2nd). Unfortunately he also played in more losses than any other player in baseball history.

Wrigley at 100

(Photo: Wrigley Field postcard, 1940s)

On March 31, 2008, Ernie Banks became a part of Wrigley Field when the club unveiled his statue. It stands right in front of the main gate at Addison and Clark. Countless Cub fans take pictures in front of it every year.

Cup of Coffee

Ray Brown was born in Chicago on this day in 1889. He was only 20 years old when he got his cup of coffee with the Cubs in 1909, the tenth youngest player in league history at that point. He pitched exactly one game, on September 29, 1909 against the Phillies at West Side Grounds. Brown threw a five hit complete game victory. He never pitched in the big leagues again. After a few more seasons in the minors, he hung up his spikes at the tender age of 24.

Ray passed away in Los Angeles in 1955.

Other Cubs Birthdays

~Bob Ferguson 1845 (White Stockings 1878)
He was the player/manager for one season, and was known for his ferocious temper. He hit .351 as a player, but was fired because owner Al Spalding considered him tactless and brutish. Read his very interesting story at the Baseball Biography Project. (I love his nickname--"Death To Flying Things")

~Charlie Wiedemeyer 1914 (Cubs 1934)
Charlie was only 20 when he pitched for his hometown Cubs. It didn't go well (9.72 ERA). He pitched in the minors until 1938.

A/V Club
Ernie takes on Gil Hodges in home run derby. (Spoiler alert: Don't bet on Gil)