Ernie Banks - "mr. Cub"
Banks made the team as the Cubs' starting shortstop in 1954 and stayed with the team until he retired in 1971. For most of those 19 years he was among the most potent offensive threats in baseball. From 1955 to 1960 he was the most prolific home run hitter in the game, hitting more than either Hank Aaron, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle hit during the same period. During that six year period he averaged more than 115 runs batted in and over 41 homers a year. In the 1958 and 1959 seasons he went on such a tear that he was named the National League's Most Valuable Player both years. It was achievement enough winning two MVPs in a row. Doubly impressive was the fact that, while MVPs are usually selected from pennant winning clubs, the Cubs finished fifth both years.
Banks was also a durable player. Beginning his first day with the Cubs he played 424 games straight, a record for a player just breaking into baseball. After a minor injury he played another 717 without an interruption. In the 1960s, Banks-already in his 30s-slowed down a bit. Still he continued to hit between 20 and 30 homers a year with good RBI production. In 1961 after a failed experiment in left field, Banks was shifted from shortstop to first base where he remained until his retirement.
Banks had impressive numbers, but unfortunately for most of his career he was the Cubs only impressive player. In the 1950s and for the first half of the 1960s, the club lived in the National League's second division. To the club's perennially bad record, Banks owes another of his claims to fame: He holds the record for the most games played with a single team, 2528, without ever playing in the World Series. The closest Banks came to post-season play was the infamous 1969 season. It was the best Cubs team in years, featuring stars such as Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins, Ron Santo and Glenn Hundley. However after leading the league the entire season, the Cubs collapsed completely in September and were overtaken by the New York Mets who went on to win the World Series. At 38 years old, Banks had played in nearly every game that season, and second-guessers speculated after the fact that if manager Leo Durocher had rested Banks more over the course of 1969, he could have helped the team more in the closing weeks. For years Banks deeply rued having never played in a Series, telling USA Today's Greg Boeck in 1990 that "It's a hole in my life."