Lights Out: Ernie Banks
When: April 29, 1960
Where: Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Missouri
Game Time: 3:22
It was a game that defined what Ernie Banks meant to his beloved Chicago Cubs.
Everything, … and, too often in the win column, nothing.
On one of the best days of Banks’ Hall of Fame career, an outstanding individual performance went for nothing in a lopsided Cubs loss. That kind of frustration would be typical of what Banks and the Cubs would experience together throughout the 1960s. But it didn’t diminish the accomplishments of “Mr. Cub,” for that day or for his career.
Ernie Banks went 3-5 with a pair of three-run homers, but the Cubs lost to the Cardinals anyway, 16-6.
As the 1960 season opened, Ernie Banks was at the height of his career. The game had never seen a shortstop who could match his offensive firepower. (Though it is easy to wonder what kind of numbers Honus Wagner would have put up had the ball of his era been livelier.) And his 1959 Gold Glove – the only one of his career – made for a compelling case that Banks could have been the best all-around shortstop ever.
The Cubs came into the game in last place in the National League. Only nine games into the season, Chicago was already 6.5 games behind the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates. And this game didn’t seem to start out any better for the Cubs, as they spotted the St. Louis Cardinals a six-run lead through the third inning (including a three-run homer by Darryl Spencer).
St. Louis starting pitcher Bob Miller shut out the Cubs through six innings, scattering four hits and two walks. Then the Cubs broke through in the seventh inning. Irv Noren, pinch hitting for Art Ceccarelli, opened the inning with a walk. Cubs manager Charlie Grimm sent in Sammy Drake to run for Noren. Drake advanced to second on Tony Taylor’s single to left field. Miller retired Richie Ashburn and George Altman. Then Banks came to bat and sent a Bob Miller fast ball deep into the stands in left. One swing cut the Cardinals’ lead in half and put the Cubs back into the game.
But it wasn’t to last. In the bottom of the eighth, the Cardinals scored 10 runs on eight hits, with two hits from Cardinals first baseman Bill White (single and a home run) that drove in three of the St. Louis runs. The Cubs came to bat in the top of the ninth down 16-3.
Game over? Apparently not for Mr. Banks. Against St. Louis reliever Frank Barnes, Taylor led off the inning by singling to center field and Ashburn was safe on a Ken Boyer error. With runners at first and second, Barnes struck out Altman, and then tried to sneak a fastball past Banks. The result was the same Bob Miller had experienced in the seventh inning as Banks launched his second three-run home run to the left field seats.
The game ended in a Cardinals win, 16-6. That day, Ernie Banks went 3-5 with a pair of three-run homers. But for that day, and for most of career, all of Banks’ personal heroics could not make the Cubs winners, or even keep them close.