"Everybody on your feet! This is it!"
That's what Jack Brickhouse yelled into his WGN microphone on a gloomy, cool Tuesday afternoon, May 12, 1970, the day Ernie Banks hit his 500th career HR.
A meaningless game? Sure. The Cubs were in first place at the time, with a 16-12 record, but ultimately fell short of the division title for the second year in a row.
A meaningless HR? Not at all. First, the Cubs needed every run they scored that day; they had to come from behind in the bottom of the 9th on a Billy Williams HR to tie the game, and then won on a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 11th by Ron Santo. So the Banks HR gave them a run they needed.
But its meaning is beyond that, and may have been dulled by the passage of almost 38 years. Ernie is now tied for 19th on the all-time HR list (with Eddie Mathews, a great player nearly forgotten today), and will likely be passed by two or three players in 2008 (Jim Thome is only five behind, and Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield both have a chance to pass him). On May 12, 1970, though, only eight players in major league history (Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Mel Ott and Mathews) had hit more home runs than Ernie Banks. In writing about Ernie a year ago in the top 100 Cub profile on him, I noted that Ernie was a far greater player than people today might remember:
Serious injuries derailed Ernie from becoming a Hall of Famer as great as Aaron or Mays -- had he continued on the path he'd paved from 1955 through 1960, he might have hit 600 or more home runs and rank fourth or fifth on the list even today.
Only 5,264 witnessed Ernie's 500th in person that rainy Tuesday. But Ernie had had a HR stolen from him on June 30, 1969 in Montreal. Read the play-by-play of how this happened:
Ernie Banks' greatness cannot be overstated. This HR represents an entire career of achievement.