A Day In Wrigley Field History: September 17, 1953

Courtesy Chicago Cubs

The Cubs got blown out in this game, but it's worth remembering for one particular debut.

The Cubs were terrible in 1953; only a last-day win over the Cardinals prevented another 90-loss season, as they finished 65-89.

They were particularly terrible September 17 at Wrigley Field against the Phillies. The visitors crushed the Cubs 16-4, but that game will always have a special place in Cubs history, as the debut game for future Hall of Famer Ernie Banks.

It wasn't an auspicious beginning. The Cubs decided it would be "Rookie Day", as written by Edward Prell in the Tribune, since the pennant had been clinched by the Dodgers. Four rookies started for the Cubs, including Banks. Prell picks up the story:

Fortunately, there were only 2,793 eyewitnesses, but the Phils' 18 hit barrage, including a homer, triple, and two doubles, doubtless caused residents in the nearby apartment buildings to wonder what all the noise was about.

[Don] Elston had two rookie companions at the start, Bob Talbot in center field, and Ernie Banks at shortstop. Banks, first Negro to play for the Cubs in a league game, was unimpressive in the field, making an error and failing to hit in three at bats.

Gene Baker had been added to the Cubs' roster at the same time as Banks; teams often did this in those days, had two black players, so they could room together on the road. Obviously, it was a different time, and Baker would likely have been the Cubs' first African-American player if not for a minor injury.

While that first game for Banks didn't impress the Cubs' beat writer, Ernie went on to go 11-for-32 with a double, a triple and two home runs the rest of 1953. He then finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1954 on his way to a Hall of Fame career.

The rest of the Cubs, and the organization, were still struggling in 1953. An Associated Press article in the same Tribune edition that Banks' debut game recap appeared, noted that the Cubs were about to lose a minor-league affiliate:

Directors of the Janesville club in the Class D Wisconsin State League voted last night to terminate a working agreement with the Chicago Cubs.

"We felt the Cubs were not helping us as much as they could," said Everett Harper, club president. "If we can sign an agreement with another major league team we will definitely continue in the league."

During the 10 year life of the Cub agreement Janesville finished second once, third once, and was mired deeply in the league's second division the other eight years.

Even in the 1950s, then, the Cubs had much neglected the farm system. Not because of this, but because minor leagues in general were consolidating in that era, the entire Wisconsin State League folded after 1953.

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