True professional ball players continue playing hard even when the game means nothing. Baseball changes gears in August. The trade deadline has passed, the contenders and pretenders made moves, and the teams with no hope for the Postseason continue their march through the remaining season. The Major League season is a long, tough journey of 162 games in six months. No weekends off and few true off days with no games or travel. Baseball is a hard game played by hard people.
No matter how much a player loves the game, playing for a lost cause is difficult. Few are surprised by the losses piled up by the Marlins and Orioles, yet players continue playing hard in this long season. Imagine doing that over an entire career.
The Mariners began 2019 winning 13 of their first 15 games. Things were looking up for Seattle’s Kyle Seager. In eight seasons with Seager, the closest the Mariners have come to the Postseason was finishing second, nine games behind the Rangers and three out of the Wild Card in 2016. The October drought for Seattle and Seager appeared ready to end after the hot start this season, but it was a mirage. The Mariners are 35-69 since and are 10 games out of fourth place in the American League West. Kyle Seager continues extending his lead as the active player with the most games played without playing in the Postseason. He has played 1218 games, 200 more than second place, Jean Segura.
Kyle Seager plays hard, even though most days there is nothing to play for in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear/ Getty Images)
Kyle Seager is outpacing his contemporaries, but he is not halfway to breaking the all time record. 2,528 career regular season games played, zero Postseason games. Mr Cub, Ernie Banks, sits atop the career leader board of being a true professional. The always cheerful Banks had two brushes with the Postseason. On August 16, 1969, the Cubs led the Mets and Cardinals by nine games. Chicago then proceeded to finish the season 17-26, including an eight game losing streak. The streaking Mets raced past Chicago on their was to a World Series Championship.
In 1970, the Cubs finished five games behind the Pirates. Chicago led Pittsburgh by five games in mid-June before falling and remaining a few games behind the Pirates for the rest of the season. Banks was a part time player in 1970, retiring retire after the 1971 season. Mr. Cub never played October baseball. Luke Appling, Mickey Vernon, and Buddy Bell can relate. This quartet are the only members of the 2,400 games played without playing in the Postseason club. No one wants to join the club.
Pitchers have time to think between games, a luxury not given to position players. Even Mike Marshall and his record 106 relief appearances for the 1974 Dodgers, had days off. Zach Duke and Steve Cishek have pitched the most games among active pitchers without pitching in the Postseason. Duke has appeared in 570 games, but never a Playoff game. He was on two Postseason teams, the 2011 Diamondbacks and 2012 Nationals. However, both were quickly eliminated before Duke pitched. While Duke has the most games pitched without pitching in a Playoff game, Steve Cishek has not even sat on the bench during the Postseason. Cishek has pitched in 556 games, but not one in the Postseason. While Duke and Cishek are due a Postseason reward, they are not alone as Felix Hernandez’s greatness was wasted in Seattle. King Felix has 411 career starts, but none in the Postseason. Seattle last made the Postseason in 2001, four seasons before Hernandez arrived. Despite Hernandez’s dominance, the Mariners have finished within 10 games of the Division winner just twice in his career, 2007 and 2016. Injuries and a rebuilding team does not give much hope for King Felix to ever pitch in the Postseason.
Even perfection on the mound could not help Felix Hernandez reach the Postseason. (Dean Rutz/ The Seattle Times)
Pitchers give their arms to baseball and Lindy McDaniel was no different. He pitched in the most Regular Season games, 987, without pitching in the Postseason. The closest McDaniel came to the Postseason was in 1966 while pitching for the Giants. San Francisco was tied for the National League lead on September 1 before losing seven of their next 10 games. The Giants never recovered, losing the Pennant to the hated Dodgers by 1.5 games. McDaniel is not alone in never tasted October baseball. Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins made 594 career starts, the most ever without pitching in the Postseason. The majority of his career was with the Cubs as they sought to exercise the Curse of the Billy Goat, yet Jenkins’ closest brush with October was with another cursed team, the Red Sox. In 1977, Boston battled the Yankees and Orioles all season, but when the Red Sox lost their lead in mid-August their season was over. The Red Sox and Orioles both finished 2.5 games behind the Yankees. Jenkins spent a few seasons pitching for the Rangers before returning to Wrigley in the twilight of his career. Never again coming close to October baseball.
Professional baseball is a grind. The excitement of the season wanes as the summer heat punishes players marching through the Regular Season. The season’s true dog days are in August for teams with nothing left to achieve. Some players are seeking new contracts or securing jobs, while others are playing just because it is their job. Hustling down the line, making a diving catch, sacrificing your body becomes more difficult when the season is lost but there are still games on the schedule. While baseball focuses on those making a Postseason push, remember the rest of baseball are professionals and continue to play hard. They show up everyday because the game is on the schedule.
On May 25, 1961 President John F. Kennedy addressed a Joint Session of Congress with a Special Message To The Congress On Urgent National Needs. As every President does, Kennedy spoke of the pressing needs facing the nation and his plan to solve them. When the speech reached the ninth section, President Kennedy told Congress, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” The Space Race began before Kennedy took office, but he pushed the race with the Soviets to the next level. The Soviets reached space first, but the moon was America’s opportunity to win.
On July 20, 1969, 2,979 days after President Kennedy spoke to Congress, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle in Tranquility Base as Michael Collins circled in lunar orbit in the Columbia Command Module. America achieved Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade.
Wally Moon adjusted his swing to take advantage of the strange configuration at the Coliseum. (Los Angeles Times)
Back on earth, the Dodgers and the Giants have one of the most intense rivalries in baseball, regardless of the standings. In 1958, Dodger owner Walter O’Malley moved the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Construction on Dodger Stadium would not begin until September 1959 forcing the Dodgers to play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Coliseum is home, most prominently, to the University of Southern California football team. Turning the Coliseum into a baseball field meant the fence in Leftfield was only 251 feet from home plate. A 41 foot tall screen was constructed, making Home Runs more difficult. Batters needed to loft the ball high above the screen for a Home Run, and no player is more remembered for this than Wally Moon and his Moonshots.
Wally Moon broke into the Majors in 1954 with the St. Louis Cardinals, winning the Rookie of the Year Award over Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron. He was an All Star in 1957 before a disappointing 1958 season made him expendable. Moon and Phil Paine were traded to the Dodgers for Gino Cimoli. Moon played 12 seasons in the Majors, five in St. Louis and seven in Los Angeles. In 1,457 career Games, Moon hit .289, with a .371 OBP, .445 SLG, and .817 OPS. He scored 737 Runs, collected 1,399 Hits, 212 Doubles, 60 Triples, slugged 142 Home Runs, drove in 661 RBI, stole 89 bases, drew 644 walks, and struck out 591 times. He was a three time All Star, 1957 and twice in 1959, and won a Gold Glove in Leftfield in 1960. Moon won two World Series with the Dodgers, 1959 and 1965. His pinch hit ground out in Game 6 of the 1965 Fall Classic was his final game. Moon sat on the bench in Game 7, watching Sandy Koufax pitch a Complete Game shutout to secure the World Series victory. Wally Moon enjoyed a successful career, however he appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot just once, in 1971, receiving just two votes (0.6%) and falling off the ballot.
Arriving in Los Angeles, Wally Moon was greeted by two things. The short, yet high porch in Leftfield and the rivalry with the Giants. Moon, hitting from the left side, understood he did not possess the power to launch baseballs out of the Coliseum to Rightfield, as the wall was 440 feet away. His career high in Home Runs was just 24. Moon adjusted his swing with Stan Musial’s help to hit balls to the opposite field.
The Coliseum created one of the strangest field configurations in baseball. (www.cbssports.com)
The Dodgers and Giants were locked in a pennant race as summer began to wane in 1959. San Francisco held a slim two game lead entering play at the Coliseum on August 31. Jack Sanford and Sandy Koufax were locked in a pitchers duel, allowing two runs each in the first eight innings. Koufax struck out the side on just 10 pitches in the top of the ninth. Sanford began the ninth by inducing a Maury Wills ground out. Koufax and Jim Gilliam hit back to back singles to Left. Giants manager Bill Rigney called in Al Worthington from the bullpen to end the threat. Worthington threw a first pitch strike to Wally Moon. His next pitch missed. On the third pitch, Moon lofted a deep fly ball to Left, clearing the screen. The Moonshot gave the Dodgers a 5 to 2 walk off victory. Los Angeles trailed the Giants by one game.
The Dodgers won the 1959 National League Pennant, two games ahead of the Milwaukee Braves and four ahead of the third place Giants. Los Angeles defeated the Chicago White Sox in six games, winning the only World Series ever played at the Coliseum. Wally Moon’s Moonshot against the Giants came 634 days before President Kennedy presented his vision of sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to earth.
The Moonshot took men to the moon and safely returned them back to earth. (NASA)
A walk off Home Run between bitter rivals foreshadowed the next stage of the Space Race. Wally Moon used the short porch in Leftfield at the Coliseum to his advantage. President Kennedy and NASA did the unimaginable, sending a man to the moon and back defeating the non-baseball playing Soviet Union. The United States won the Space Race with a few steps by Neil Armstrong, while Wally Moon helped to win the Pennant with one swing of his bat. Both were incredible Moonshots.
Happy 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing.
Ernie Banks is a legend in Chicago. He has not stepped onto the field since 1971, but he is still immensely popular. A person does no receive the nickname of Mr. Cub unless he is truly deserving of such an honor. Ernie Banks was such a man.
Ernie Banks build a Hall of Fame career during his 19 seasons playing in the Friendly Confines. He hit 512 career home runs with 1,636 RBI, has a career .274 batting average, .330 On-Base Percentage (OBP), .500 Slugging Percentage (SLG), and a .986 Fielding Percentage (.994 at fist base). Bank won back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player Awards in 1958 and 1959. He played in 14 All Star Games. Twice he led the National League in home runs (1958 and 1960) and RBI (1958 and 1959). In 1960, Banks won the National League Gold Glove at shortstop. In 1977, Banks was elected on the first ballot into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Cubs gave Ernie Banks the honor of being the first Cubs player to have his number retired in team history in 1982. He was also selected as a member of the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Not bad for a man which at one point in his life had to be paid to play catch with his dad.
Unquestionably 1958 and 1959 were the best seasons of Banks’s career. Entering his fifth full season, Banks found his stride. In 1958, Banks played 154 games, hit 47 home runs with 129 RBI, 23 doubles, 11 triples, scored 119 runs, walked 52 times against 87 strikeouts, hit .313, .366 OBP, .614 SLG, .980 OPS, was elected to the All Star Game, posted a WAR of 9.4 (oWAR of 8.6 and dWAR 1.9). Banks won the National League Most Valuable Player Award by 98 votes over Willie Mays. In 1959, Banks followed up his terrific 1958 season with a season, which may have been even better. He played 155 games, hit 45 home runs with 143 RBI, with 25 doubles, 6 triples, and scored 97 runs. Banks increased his walk total to 64 and reduced his strikeout total to 72. He hit .304, .374 OBP, .596 SLG, .970 OPS, and was elected to the All Star Game. Banks committed only 12 errors in 802 chances for a .985 Fielding Percentage at shortstop. Banks posted a WAR of 10.2 (oWAR of 7.8 and dWAR of 3.5). He won the National League Most Valuable Player Award by 43 votes over Eddie Mathews. Banks was a dominating force on Cubs teams that went 72-82 and 74-80 during his MVP seasons respectively.
Ernie Banks was more than a baseball player. Mr. Sunshine played on only six teams that finished above .500 during his 19-season career. The first winning team was in 1963, Banks’ 11th season, when the Cubs went 82-80. Only the 1969 Cubs won more than 90 games during Banks’ career. That is a lot of losing to go through and still maintain one’s joy and passion for the game.
Ernie Banks loved life and love people. He was a military veteran, serving in the army during the Korean War. He was loyal to people. After the Cubs bought Banks he was hesitant to report until he was essentially ordered by Buck O’Neil to go to Chicago. Leaving his teammates with the Kansas City Monarchs was incredibly difficult for Banks. He went to the Cubs and joined the team as its first African-American player. Banks chose to let his play talk for him instead of his words. He earned the respect and admiration of people, whether or not they were connected to the Cubs.
“an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Ernie Banks was Mr. Cub. Ernie Banks was Mr. Sunshine. Ernie Banks was and forever will be a role model for how we all should live our lives. He loved his job and the people he worked with. In spite of the personal and professional struggles he faced, Ernie Banks never let these difficult challenges deprive him of his joy and passion for the game of baseball, and most importantly, life. Everyone who saw the joy with which you lived your life will miss you. Thank you Ernie Banks.