Ernie Banks 1954 #094
by William Szczepanek
The 1954 Topps Card #094 is the rookie card for Ernie Banks. Banks debuted in quiet fashion in 1954 with 19 home runs in his first full season. His second full season climaxed in grand style when the lean-looking Banks set a new record for grand slams in a season when he took a letter-high fastball out of Busch stadium off of Lindy McDaniel for his fifth grand slam of the year. Neither Gehrig nor Ruth had ever hit that many grand slams in one season. Banks’ record stood until the 1987 when Don Mattingly hit six grand slams in one seasons, the only slams of his career. Travis Hafner tied Mattingly’s record in 2006.
Banks’ grand slam record was set in the same tone as many of his other achievements. The Cubs blew a five run lead to lose the game and there was no celebration. Banks finished the season with 44 home runs, breaking the record for home runs by a shortstop in one year. He went on to hit 512 home runs for Cub teams that continued to be at the bottom of the standings. He was the NL MVP in 1958 and 1959, while the Cubs finished fifth and sixth, respectively. “Without him, the Cubs would finish in Albuquerque.” — Jimmie Dykes.
Banks was signed by Cool Papa Bell to a contract for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1950 at age 19. He returned to them after two years in the army, where the Cubs discovered him at the end of the 1953 season.
Initially, not a great fielder, he committed only 12 errors in 1959, then a record for shortstops, and led NL shortstops in fielding in both 1960, with a Gold Glove, and 1961. He later moved to first base when his range was limited by injuries. Banks won the fielding title at his new position in 1969, and led NL first basemen in assists five times. He was MVP in 1958 and 1959.
An interesting aspect of his 1954 card is that his background picture of him in his batting stance has been slanted to fit on the card. Anyone familiar with Banks knows that he held the bat almost perfectly vertical and all of his fingers rippled the bat handle until the very instant before he swung.
While very thin and not muscular, Banks would slowly approach the plate for his turn with quiet reserve. He would slowly cock the bat, ripple the handle with his fingers and dare the pitcher to throw it by him. Bill Furlong in Baseball Stars of 1959 stated, "His wrists are the secret of his success. Instead of taking the big Ruthian type swing of the lively ball era, he swings his bat as if it were a buggy whip, striking at the ball with the reflexive swiftness of a serpent's tongue."
From 1955 to 1960, Banks hit more homers than anyone in the majors, including Mantle, Mays, and Aaron. He was named to the All Star team eleven times including eight consecutive years (1955-1962). He is also one of a few of Hall of Famers never to get into postseason play.
Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub”, was the first black player to play for the Chicago Cubs. He is known for saying, "It's a great day for a ball game; let's play two!" He defined Cubs Park as “The beautiful confines of Wrigley Field”.
Our pick as one of his best looking cards goes to the 1955 Topps Ernie Banks #028.
You can check out Ernie Banks' statistics at Baseball Reference.