10 Decades, 10 Legends: 1950s—Ernie Banks
For our annual July All-Star issue, Vine Line set out to find the most valuable player from each 10-year span in Wrigley Field’s history to create a Cubs All-Star team for the ages. There are hundreds of ways to go about this, so we simplified things by using the baseball statistics website Fangraphs to find the player with the highest Wins Above Replacement total for each decade.
Wins Above Replacement, better known as WAR, takes all of a player’s statistics—both offensive and defensive—and outputs them into a single number designed to quantify that player’s total contributions to his team (though for pitchers, we used only their mound efforts and excluded offensive stats). For our purposes, a player received credit only for the numbers he posted in each individual decade and only for the years he was a member of the Cubs.
In the fifth installment of our 10 Decades, 10 Legends series, it’s Mr. Cub Ernie Banks’ time in the spotlight. During the 1950s, he put together one of the best stretches for a shortstop ever.
1950s – Ernie Banks, 39.6 WAR
Ernie Banks’ 1950s WAR total is the sixth best among NL offensive players for the decade. It’s even more impressive when you consider he was active for only six full seasons during that stretch.
With segregation still impacting professional baseball, Banks didn’t join the major leagues until September 1953, when he played 10 games with the Cubs just before the season ended.
But by the latter stages of the 1950s, Mr. Cub was striking fear into the hearts of NL pitchers. In 1958 and 1959, he put up two of the most productive seasons ever—no shortstop has put up a similar WAR total in a single season since.
In 1958, he claimed two-thirds of the Triple Crown, hitting 47 homers and driving in 129, all while batting a career-best .313. The following year he slammed 45 homers and had a league-leading 143 RBI. He claimed MVP awards in both years.
For the decade, Banks averaged 33 homers versus just 62 strikeouts per season—and this was at a time when very little offense was expected of middle infielders. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1954 and went to five All-Star Games in the 1950s, starting three.
Mr. Cub was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977.