There are few players who can be said to be the most popular in their franchise history, but that statement certainly applies to Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs. He is, by clear consensus, Mr. Cub.
Banks, who died in 2015, played in 2,528 games in 19 seasons, each in a Chicago Cubs uniform. That total games played, by the way, is a Cubs record. So are his 9,421 at-bats, 10,396 plate appearances, 4,706 total bases and 1,009 extra-base hits.
With 2,583 base hits, he ranks second in Cubs history (after Cap Anson). He is also second to Sammy Sosa in home runs (512) and second to Anson in RBIs (1,636).
He was voted the National League Most Valuable Player twice (1958 and 1959), and on both occasions he won that award despite the handicap of playing for a second division club.
Banks’ greatness led to his first induction into the Hall of Fame in 1977. All of which makes Mr. Cub an obvious candidate for the career top 10 exam.
Those top 10 games are evaluated based on the Aggregate Winning Probability metric.
Added Probability of Winning is used because it calculates the role of the individual in influencing the outcome of the game. For that reason, he emphasizes the game-changing achievements in the last entry. Judge the player’s contribution within the larger context of winning the game.
Here are the 10 best games of Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks’ career.
10. July 17, 1968, Cubs 8, Phillies 4. Facing Woodie Fryman at Connie Mack Stadium, Banks jump-started the Cubs’ offense with a first-inning, three-run home run to the left-field seats. But the Phillies fought back to tie the score at 3-3 when Banks came up again with Ron Santo on base in the fifth. His second home run hit the center field seats and gave the Cubs a 5-3 lead that they never relinquished. His single in the eighth provided an insurance run. Aggregate winning probability: 0.549.
9. Aug. 24, 1969, Cubs 10, Houston 9. These were the last critical moments of the Cubs’ 1969 season; they entered a doubleheader at Wrigley Field with a seemingly secure six-game lead over the runner-up Mets. Banks homered into the left-field stands leading off the second inning against Jack Billingham, and in the fourth, his single set up a run-scoring hit from Jim Hickman.
Then, with the game tied 8-8 in the bottom of the eighth, Banks hit another home run into the left-field stands, scoring Ron Santo in front of him and giving the Cubs a 10-8 lead that would hold on. the ninth. It was one of the great final moments of the season for the Cubs, who would lose 21 of their last 33 games and finish second behind the Mets. Aggregate winning probability: 0.551.
8. May 1, 1963, Cubs 13, Cardinals 8. Banks’ three-run homer in the first off Ray Sadecki set the tone for an offensive night at Busch Stadium. The Cubs trailed 8-6 when Banks came up in the seventh, blasting a three-run home run off Harry Fanok. One inning later, Banks singled off Diomedes Olivo, scoring Billy Williams with Chicago’s 11th run. Aggregate winning probability: 0.569.
7. April 12, 1965, Cubs 10, St. Louis 10. Opening Day is always hopeful, unless you’re a Cubs fan coming off an eighth-place season with little prospect of improvement. Add to that a five-race lead in the world champions’ first and the prospect of facing Bob Gibson and things were looking pretty dark.
But Banks’ third-inning single scored George Altman and brought the Cubs within 5-2. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, with his team trailing 9-6, Ron Santo and George Altman on base and up his final swing, Banks sent a Barney Schultz knuckleball into the left-field bleachers for a home run that hit the ball. tied the game. Two innings later, each team had scored on the 11th, darkness forced the proceedings to stop, the game officially going into the books as a tie. Aggregate winning probability: 0.569.
6. July 8, 1955, Cubs 6, Cardinals 4. If there was a single day that Ernie Banks became a star, it was this. Just 24 years old and in his second full season, he hit a first-inning homer off Floyd Wooldridge at Busch Stadium to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead. But the game was tied 4-4 at the end of nine innings, and neither team scored a run in the tenth. Gene Baker led off the Cubs’ 11th inning by drawing a walk off Gordon Jones. One out later, Banks hit a home run to the left field seats for what would soon become the winning margin. A week later, he would make his All-Star debut, starting for the National League at shortstop. Aggregate winning probability: 0.604.
5. June 29, 1970, Cardinals 8, Cubs 6. Banks seemed to reserve his best performances for the Cubs’ geographic rivals; four of his top 10 games came against St. Louis. That included this one, when he was the loser.
His sacrifice fly in the first inning produced the first run of the game, and his home run in the sixth inning tied the game 3–3. With the game still tied, now 4-4, Banks homered for the 507th time of his career and the 64th time against the Cardinals, giving the Cubs a 6-4 lead. But the Cardinals tagged Ken Holtzman and Phil Regan for four runs in the bottom of the eighth to get the win. Aggregate winning probability: 0.615.
4. Aug. 11, 1959, Cubs 5, Dodgers 4. On his way to his second straight MVP, Banks homered off Johnny Podres in the fifth at Wrigley Field to tie the game 1-1. Chicago trailed 3-2 when Banks faced Sandy Koufax, who was still trying to establish himself as a starter, with one out and the tying run on second. Banks had a hit that sent the game into extra innings, as the Cubs ultimately won. Aggregate winning probability: 0.633.
3. Aug. 21, 1968, Cubs 5, Braves 4. In the first game of a midweek doubleheader at Wrigley Field, Banks’ leadoff homer in the second off Milt Pappas put Chicago ahead. They did not stay ahead; the Braves scored four times in the third and led 4-3 when Banks faced Cecil Upshaw with two outs and Billy Williams on first in the bottom of the seventh. His home run to the left-field bleachers restored the Cubs’ lead, which relief ace Phil Regan was able to protect. Aggregate winning probability: 0.638.
2. April 18, 1962, Cubs 3, Astros 2. On a cool 50-degree day at Wrigley Field, Banks sent a first-inning triple off the center wall, scoring Elder White with the first run of the game. But Astros pitchers held the Cubs to just one more run, sending the game to the bottom of the ninth in a 2–2 tie. After Turk Farrell flied out Ken Hubbs and Billy Williams, Banks stepped up and hit a game-ending home run into the left-center field bleachers. Aggregate winning probability: 0.669.
1. July 12, 1957, Cubs 5, Phillies 2. Three days after playing in the All-Star Game, Banks was on the field at Connie Mack Stadium against the Phillies. The game meant little to the Cubs, who were buried in last place at the time and would only move as high as seventh by the end of the season.
The Cubs wasted Banks’ second-inning double and fourth-inning single and trailed 2–1 against Robin Roberts entering the eighth inning as a result. Then, after Walt Moryn’s base hit to right, Banks seized on Roberts’ error and sent him flying into the left-field seats for a two-run home run that gave Chicago a 3-run lead. 2. It was one of 82 home runs Banks would hit against the Phils, his favorite home run complement. Chicago would add two more runs in the ninth but, that day, it was Banks’ slugging that made the difference. Aggregate winning probability: 0.695.