Ernie Banks’ Career as a Cub

On Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm, Chicago Tribune baseball columnist Phil Rogers joins us to discuss his latest book, Ernie Banks: Mr. Cub and the Summer of ’69. Here is an excerpt from the book and a slideshow of Banks’ greatest days.

Excerpt from Ernie Banks: Mr. Cub and the Summer of ‘69:

All of his life, Ernie Banks knew he could hit. He didn’t need to spend a whole lot of time thinking about exactly how he hit—beyond trying to imitate Hank Thompson, the machine gunner/Negro leaguer he had seen playing softball in Dallas—and was blessed in having come out of the gate hitting in Chicago. Batting between .275 and .313 in his first five full seasons in the big leagues kept coaches away from Banks in an era when other young hitters, including future Hall of Famer Lou Brock, would regress from the attention they received.

Banks said he rarely analyzed his swing—although he would occasionally look at videos (home movies, really) to compare his form from one year to another—preferring a “very simple” approach to hitting, as well as everything else in baseball.

“Just hit the ball, catch the ball, throw the ball, run to first,” Banks said.

Life was rarely clearer or simpler for Banks than when he settled into the batter’s box, 60’6’’ away from a pitcher armed with a baseball and a lifetime’s experience in the many ways to throw it.

“It didn’t matter to me about who was pitching,” Banks said. “I guess ignorance is bliss. I didn’t want to know who was pitching. It was just somebody throwing a ball.”

Banks’ approach was so simple that it sometimes seamed he wasn’t really trying. He sometimes seemed unprepared, which could grate on those who, like Ted Williams, believe that every at-bat was like a prize fight, if not a battle between two armies aligned against each other with certain known strengths and weaknesses.

Rogers Hornsby, one of baseball’s greatest hitters, spent two years as one of the Cubs’ hitting coaches. Years later, he was still fuming because Banks had once returned to the dugout asking who the pitcher was after twice striking out against Lew Burdette, a veteran All-Star who would be a 20-game winner that season.

Did Banks really not recognize Burdette? Hornsby couldn’t believe he had been that lazy, that ignorant.

“If I was managing today, I’d beat the hell out of him,” Hornsby said about Banks in a 1963 feature story in the Saturday Evening Post. “All these kids in the stands know who’s pitching, and here’s a guy making $40,000 a year and [he] ain’t got the desire to see the program.”

But for Banks, hitting was never about the pitcher. It was about seeing the ball and hitting the ball.

Ernie Banks: Mr. Cub

Click image to view photo gallery

Photos and excerpt from Ernie Banks: Mr. Cub and the Summer of ’69 are reprinted with the permission of Triumph Books / www.triumphbooks.com/erniebanks

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