How Ernie Banks Could Have Become a Cardinal

The St. Louis Cardinals passed on signing Negro Leagues shortstop Ernie Banks in 1953.

It is with a double dose of sadness that I reflect on the passing of Hall of Famer and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree Ernie Banks. Baseball loses one of its greatest ambassadors, a man who hit 512 home runs as “Mr. Cub,” undoubtedly the greatest Chicago Cub ever.

Watching Banks beat the St. Louis Cardinals time and time again over the years was bad enough, but knowing the story about how he could and should have been a Cardinal always increased my pain.

This 1977 Associated Press article recounts the specifics. Quincy Trouppe, a former Negro Leagues catcher, was scouting the black leagues for the Cardinals in 1953. Kansas City Monarchs manager Buck O’Neil, a future Hall of Famer himself, recommended his young shortstop to Trouppe.

The Cardinals sent another scout to check Banks out. His negative report included the following quote. “He can’t hit, he can’t run, he has a pretty good arm, but it’s a scatter arm. I don’t like him.”

Trouppe traveled to St. Louis to argue in favor of the 22-year-old, but the organization refused to sign Banks. He was soon snapped up by the Cubs, and the rest was history.

Speaking of history, the record of the integration of the game shows the Cardinals as laggards, not leaders. At the time of the Banks story, six years after the debut of Jackie Robinson, St. Louis had yet to suit up a black Major Leaguer. Tom Alston finally broke that barrier on April 13, 1954.

It only seems fitting that Banks had already reached Chicago the prior September, where he starred until his retirement as an active player in 1971.

Rest in peace, Mr. Cub.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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