Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Quartet of Hall of Famers Debut on September 17th Part II

On this day in Baseball History September 17: In a continuation from my last post, A Quartet of Hall of Famers Debut on September 17th Part I, four future Hall of Famers made their debut on September 17th. The last post profiled Eddie Collins and Stan Musial. Let's see who the other two were.

Ernie Banks September 17, 1953

The man that would be known as Mr. Cub made his debut for the Chicago Cubs on September 17, 1953 against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, Chicago. Banks hold the distinction of being the first African-American player on the Chicago Cubs though he wasn't the first African-American signed by the Cubs. The article Banks grew from early Baker influence: First two black Cubs players formed tight bond by Carrie Muskat from MLB.com dated April 13, 2012 describes this further:
Ernie Banks was the first African-American to play for the Cubs, making his Major League debut on Sept. 17, 1953, at Wrigley Field. Three days later, Gene Baker, who was the first African-American player the Cubs signed, made his debut. If not for a minor injury, the two would've been in the lineup on the same day.

Baker signed with the Cubs in 1950 and spent three years in the Minor Leagues. Banks signed less than a week before his debut. And if it weren't for Baker, Banks may not have made it to the Hall of Fame.

Baker was a star at basketball and track in high school in Davenport, Iowa, and played sandlot baseball. He got more serious about baseball when he served in the Navy. In 1947, Baker was a star infielder for St. Ambrose University in Davenport. He was signed by the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League to play shortstop and batted .293 his rookie season.

The Cubs saw Baker and signed him, assigning him to the Des Moines Bruins of the Class A Western League. The Monarchs would eventually replace Baker with another shortstop -- Banks.

Baker hit .321 for the Bruins in 1950 and was promoted to the Springfield Cubs of the International League, then the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League.

Wendell Smith, now in the writer's wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame and an African-American, felt the Cubs were holding Baker back for no reason.

"The most controversial player in the Chicago Cubs organization is a 28-year-old shortstop who plays 2,000 miles from here," Smith wrote in August 1953. "He is Gene Baker of Los Angeles, the Cubs' No. 1 Minor League affiliate. Are the Cubs purposely overlooking this smooth fielding shortstop for whom they paid $6,500 to the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League in 1950?"

In Smith's story, Wid Matthews, the Cubs director of player personnel at that time, said the team didn't feel Baker was ready. One month later, Baker and Banks arrived at Wrigley on the same day, Sept. 14, 1953. Banks was 22 and came from the Monarchs, where he had hit .380 with 23 homers. Baker was six years older.

They were called up at the perfect time. The Cubs were playing the Brooklyn Dodgers at Wrigley when Banks and Baker arrived. Jackie Robinson, the first player to break the color barrier in the Major Leagues, talked to the young shortstop and told him to not say anything, not listen to anything, Banks said.

"It was that type of atmosphere -- it was, 'OK, you're here, but you're not here,'" Banks said. "I fit into that. I was quiet anyways. Gene Baker, he was different. He was from Iowa, and he had played in Los Angeles against white players and had more experience."

Baker was more outspoken than Banks.

"One day we were coming back home after a game, and [Baker] said, 'All these guys are angry with you,' and I said, 'For what?'" Banks said. "He said, 'You're hustling too much, you're showing everybody up.'

"I said, 'I thought you're supposed to play hard,'" Banks said. "I said, 'What should I do?' He said, 'Keep on doing it.' He was a very bright guy. He was the brightest guy I've ever been around. He allowed me to learn from my own experiences."

Since both Baker and Banks were shortstops, the Cubs decided to move Baker to second base, because they felt he could make the adjustment easier. The next season, 1954, they were regulars in the Cubs' lineup and the first black double-play combination in the Major Leagues.
Here is the boxscore for the September 17, 1953 game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs from the September 18, 1953 edition of the New York Times:


Banks would play for the Chicago Cubs 19 seasons, retiring after the 1971 campaign. Banks would be inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 with 83.8% of the vote (321/383 ballots).

- Click here to access Ernie Banks' career statistics from Baseball Reference.com
- Click here to access Gene Baker's career statistics from Baseball Reference.com
- Click here to access the article Banks grew from early Baker influence: First two black Cubs players formed tight bond by Carrie Muskat from MLB.com dated April 13, 2012

Brooks Robinson September 17, 1955

The player that many believe is the best defensive third-baseman in the history of the game made his debut for the Baltimore Orioles on September 17, 1955 against the Washington Senators at Memorial Stadium, Baltimore. Unlike the previously profiled Collins, Musial and Banks, Robinson's debut and start to his Major League career was inauspicious to say the least. The article Brooks Robinson by Maxwell Cates from the SABR Baseball Biography Project goes into the problems facing Robinson at the point of his debut:
After graduating from Central High School in 1955, Robinson and his parents considered several baseball offers before signing with Baltimore Orioles scout Arthur Ehlers for $4,000. The Orioles were a lowly organization at the time, just a season removed from their transfer from St. Louis. Ehlers used the organization’s position to convince Robinson that “with us, you have the chance to move up faster than with probably any other club.”

Robinson began his professional career in York, Pennsylvania, with a reputation as a weak hitter. Even the public address announcer for the Piedmont League club did not take the prospect seriously, announcing him as Bob Robinson in his first plate appearance. Years later Robinson credited Paul Richards for seeing his “raw ability and for [refusing] to listen to the people that didn’t think I’d ever hit in the big leagues.” Robinson batted .091 (2-for-22) in a brief September call-up.

“I thought Paul was kidding when he had me watch the kid work out one day,” recalled teammate Gene Woodling. “He couldn’t hit, he couldn’t run, and his arm wasn’t that strong.” Robinson spent the next four years splitting time between the major and minor leagues.
Here is the boxscore for the September 17, 1953 game between the Washington Senators and the Baltimore Orioles from the September 18, 1953 edition of the New York Times:


Its funny to read about how Robinson was considered a prospect that couldn't hit, run and didn't have a strong arm knowing now that he is considered by many as being the best third-baseman to ever play the game. You have any doubts? Robinson won 16-straight Gold Gloves at 3rd from 1960-1975 and 15-straight All-Star appearances from 1960-1974. Robinson would retire on August 13, 1977. Robinson would be inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983 with 92% of the vote (344/374 ballots).

Not bad for a a prospect that couldn't hit, run and didn't have a strong arm. ;)

- Click here to access Brooks Robinson's career statistics from Baseball Reference.com
- Click here to access the article Brooks Robinson by Maxwell Cates from the SABR Baseball Biography Project 

I'm curious. Are there any other days on the calendar where a number of future Hall of Famers debuted on the same day in different years? If you know of any, please feel free to email me at baseballsiscokidstyle@gmail.com or send me a tweet at @BaseballSisco.

Until Then Keep Playing Ball,
Baseball Sisco
#baseballsisco
#baseballsiscokidstyle