This story, by Baseball Hall of Famer Jerome Holtzman, first appeared in the Sept. 3, 1958, issue of The Sporting News under the headline “Banks Given Best Chance to Tie Bambino” as Chicago icon Ernie Banks was on his way to the first of consecutive NL MVP awards. Only five years earlier Banks’ name had first appeared in TSN in connection with the Cubs (a “Negro shortstop from the Kansas City Monarchs”) as one of four Black players, the first in franchise history, to arrive in Chicago. The future Mr. Cub’s first of 512 major-league homers was chronicled two weeks later (he also had a triple, a single and three RBIs that day in St. Louis).
CHICAGO — It was a Sunday morning at Wrigley Field and the Cubs were preparing for a double-header. They were taking batting practice and Ernie Banks was in the cage. He took four swings and four balls sailed into the bleachers. Two dipped into the left field stand and the other two high, towering shots dropped well beyond the 400-foot mark in dead center.
As the kids in the bleacher’s scrambled for these latest Ernie Banks souvenirs, a mild argument developed behind the batting cage. “It’s his eyes,” said Jim Bolger, the Cubs’ utility outfielder and pinch-hitter. “No,” said Walt (Moose) Moryn, “it’s his timing and coordination.” Dale Long disagreed. “It’s the wrists,” he said.
The grizzled old Rogers Hornsby, greatest righthanded hitter in baseball history and now a batting coach with the Cubs, listened in silence. Finally, the Rajah spoke, an air of finality in his voice. “It’s all those things put together,” he said, “Good eyes, timing, the wrists and the follow through.”
He Puzzles Fans
That ended the discussion and should answer, also, the one question that baseball fans are constantly asking about Ernie Banks. When they see Ernie Banks in the flesh, a lean, wiry 178-pounder, their reaction is inevitably the same: “How does he do it? Where does he get the power?”
TSN ARCHIVES: Walter Payton’s lessons in greatness (Nov. 15, 1999)
The power, of course, is there, for Banks already has established himself as the best slugging shortstop in baseball history. He did this with 41 homers in 1955, and now, three years later, he is challenging the game’s homer giants: Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg and Hack Wilson.
By the fourth week in August, Banks had clubbed 42 home runs, just three games behind the Bambino’s record 60-homer pace. But whereas Ruth’s other challengers wilted in September, Banks has given evidence that he too, can hit in the stretch. He slugged 13 homers last September. Perhaps he will do as well or better this year.
Many baseball men contend that Banks has the best chance of anyone playing today of equalling or surpassing Ruth’s 60, the most sacred single record in the game. Cub Manager Bob Scheffing is among them and offers this one, simple reason:
“Ernie is getting better all the time,” Schelling says. “He still has his best years ahead of him.”
At 27, Banks is a five-year big league veteran and a baseball fixture. Prior to ’58, he had clubbed 136 major league homers and had a three-year homer average (1955-56-57) of 38.3. It is this consistency, plus the fact that he is not a streak hitter, that makes him the No. 1 threat to Ruth’s record today.
Banks himself, though, says Ruth’s record is beyond his reach. Asked if he thought he could break the record, he replied, his generally phlegmatic expression actually startled by the question: “Who, me? You can put all my homers end to end and I’d never match Ruth.”
TSN ARCHIVES: Michael Jordan retired; Bob Costas weighed in (Jan. 25, 1999)
Banks, however, suffers from extreme modesty. There is probably no other major league star who minimizes and soft-pedals his achievements as Banks does. He almost never speaks about himself, especially when with a group. Ask him about hitting and he’ll talk in surprisingly vivid detail of Stan Musial, Willie Mays or Frank Thomas. He almost ever mentions Ernie Banks.
“I’ve never heard Ernier make a boastful remark,” says Manager Scheffing. “And he has plenty to talk about. But it’s just not his way. He picks up his bat and goes to the plate and whether he hits a home run or strikes out, he comes back without saying a word.”
This Sphinx-like exterior once prompted Stan Hack (Banks’ second manager; Phi] Cavarretta was his first) to make the statement which has since been widely quoted: “After he hits a homer, he comes back to the bench looking as if he did something wrong.”
But this is just Banks’ outward manner and actually quite superficial. He says that he gets quite excited. His stomach jumps, his heart pumps fast and he is extremely tense, particularly before a new series, and when he comes to bat for the first time in every…