clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cubs historical sleuthing: Ernie Banks sets a record edition

This was one of Ernie’s earliest records.

Bettmann / Contributor

This Getty Images photo came with the following information:

Chicago Cubs teammates greet Ernie Banks as he crosses home plate. This is Banks 40th home run of the season, setting a record for shortstops.

That makes this fairly easy, so let me fill you in on the details.

Ernie Banks set this record in his second full season, 1955. The previous record, 39, had been set by Red Sox shortstop Vern Stephens in 1949. Stephens followed that up with a 30-homer season in 1950.

That was unusual. At the time, Stephens was the only MLB shortstop to hit 30 or more home runs in a season. Shortstops weren’t expected to hit for power, or even hit much at all, in that era. If they played solid defense that was good enough for most teams. Remember that errors were much more common in baseball up to around that time, and so if a shortstop could field his position and help prevent runs, it didn’t much matter that he could hit.

Banks was the one who changed all that, though the idea of a defense-first shortstop didn’t really end for good until the 1970s.

So Ernie’s 40th home run of 1955 broke Stephens’ record. When did it happen?

Friday, September 2, 1955 at Wrigley Field. It was a three-run shot that completed the Cubs scoring in an eight-run second inning against the Cardinals. No. 37 in the photo is Gene Baker, one of two runners (Dee Fondy was the other) who scored on that home run. The Cubs player at the left is probably the on-deck hitter, Randy Jackson, and the other Cub (partly obscured at right) is likely the batboy. The Cardinals catcher (No. 15) is Bill Sarni and the plate umpire is Babe Pinelli.

Just 8,160 saw that game, which the Cubs won 12-2.

Banks would go on to hit four more homers that year, and eventually he would hit 47 in 1958 in the first of his two MVP seasons. That stood as the MLB record for shortstops until 2001, when Alex Rodriguez hit 52. A-Rod topped that in 2002 with 57. Banks’ 47, then, still stands as the NL record.