Because of his exuberance of putting fun into the game of baseball, despite playing on clubs that never appeared in postseason play during his career, Banks is known as Mr. Cub and will forever be the identifying face of the N.L. Chicago franchise.
Banks gave to the game as much as it had given him by constantly expounding on its virtues, by patiently signing thousands upon thousands of autographs for kids, by continually making himself available to the public for talks on baseball, and by his refusal to knock a teammate or foe.
As a young boy, I had the opportunity to meet Banks at the Baseball Writer’s dinner in Chicago many years ago, an event I attended with my Dad, who had been a Cubs baseball beat writer for the Chicago Daily News and knew Banks well.
When introduced, I was speechless, but Banks put his arm around me and called me, “my little buddy.” He signed his autograph on a program several times that night and as he chatted with my Dad, he continued to smile and include me in on their conversation.
For the Chicago Cubs, Banks’ many attributes as a player and fan favorite make him an easy choice as the face of the franchise. Here are selections for each MLB club’s best and most recognizable player in franchise history.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Randy Johnson—The franchise will celebrate its 19th season in MLB in 2016, so the list is not long for the player who can be identified as the greatest contributor to the team’s history and success. Johnson played only eight of his 22 major league seasons in Arizona, but no player did more for the credibility of the D’backs being a postseason contender than the Big Unit. During his time with the club, he won four Cy Young Awards, led the team to its only World Series title and captured Fall Classic MVP honors. He also pitched a perfect game, had a 20-strikeout performance and was considered the most intimidating hurler in the majors. When you see the Diamondbacks logo, memories of Johnson’s numerous accomplishments follow.
Atlanta Braves: Hank Aaron—Aaron’s consistent greatness will always be linked to the Braves clubs in Milwaukee and Atlanta. Aaron helped bring the only World Series title to the city of Milwaukee and Atlanta was the home where Aaron closed out his pursuit of Babe Ruth and established a new career home run record. Although Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews are historic figures in Braves baseball annals, it is Aaron who is the face of the franchise.
Baltimore Orioles: Cal Ripken—A Rookie of the Year Award, two A.L. MVP honors, two All-Star game MVP awards, one World Series title, 19 All-Star appearances and 3,184 hits etch Ripken’s name in stone as one of the greatest players in Orioles history. But his record-setting feat of playing in 2,632 consecutive games, including a record of 8,243 consecutive innings played, have made Ripken the most documented player in franchise history—surpassing those of fellow Hall of Famers George Sisler, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer and Eddie Murray.
Boston Red Sox: Ted Williams—He is often referred to as the greatest pure hitter whoever played the game, and his numbers reflect that he was among the very best. Williams’ offensive totals are impressive despite missing several of his prime seasons serving in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps as an instructor and fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean Conflict. On the field, his six batting championships, two Triple Crown titles and two A.L. MVP Awards rank him as one of the top performers in the game and the face of Red Sox ballplayers.
Chicago Cubs: Ernie Banks—He not only had a great impact on the major league game as an outstanding player, he impacted the lives of many people in a positive way that endeared him to the city and many Cub followers.
Chicago White Sox: Frank Thomas—The White Sox have a long and impactful history in Major League Baseball but not with standout names that are remembered through different eras. Joe Jackson has the bad rap of the Black Sox scandal. Great players such as Ted Lyons, Eddie Collins, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Carlton Fisk and Paul Konerko are Chicago icons, but Lyons is from a long ago era and Fox did not have the offensive punch that keeps players at a regal level. Collins, Aparicio and Fisk all had careers split with other teams. Konerko is close but did not have the individual stardom that Thomas enjoyed with his MVP Awards, batting title and all-around supreme hitting ability. Although Konerko has the 2005 postseason heroics on his side, Thomas will be the one remembered as the better offensive performer and the top producer in White Sox history.
Cincinnati Reds: Pete Rose—Despite his rough downfall in the major leagues, Rose continues to be the player synonymous with Reds baseball. Although Johnny Bench is a close second, it was Rose who epitomized the style of how the Reds played during their championship seasons in the 1970s. When characterizing a great hustling player, most envision Rose sprinting around the bases or diving on the field. His play influenced a whole generation of ballplayers and he remains the face of the organization.
Cleveland Indians: Bob Feller—Like fellow Hall of Famer Ted Williams, Feller is admired more for his time serving his country in World War II than as his time as the greatest pitcher of his era. He served as one of the best pitchers in Indians history and one of the club’s best spokesmen. He led the A.L. in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts in each of three seasons before entering the Navy and missing almost four complete years of his prime due to combat missions during World War II. When he returned, Feller again led the A.L. in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts in his first two full seasons back. Had he not missed time in military service, his career numbers would be significantly better. But with his service to the country and ability to be a dominating pitcher, he is the most respected man in Cleveland Indians history.
Colorado Rockies: Todd Helton—Like other expansion teams, the Rockies have a short history and one that features many players with short stays with the club. Helton, on the other hand, played his entire 17 years in Colorado and put up Hall of Fame worthy numbers to place his name as the best and most recognizable in franchise history. He is the club record holder in games (2,247), at-bats (7,962), hits (2,519), runs scored (1,401), doubles (592), home runs (369), RBI (1,406) and walks (1,335). Helton also hit .316 with a .414 on-base percentage and .539 slugging mark. The face of Rockies baseball is spelled H-E-L-T-O-N.
Detroit Tigers: Ty Cobb—He is the owner of the highest career batting average in the game’s history with a .366 mark and hit over .300 in 23 of his 24 seasons, including three campaigns with a average above .400. Cobb also holds the mark for the most league batting titles with 12 and at the time of his retirement in 1928, he was the modern all-time leader in hits (4,189), runs (2,244), RBI (1,933), on-base percentage (.433) and stolen bases (897). Today, he still ranks among the top players in each of these categories making him one of the best players to ever play the game and the most venerated in Tigers franchise history.
Houston Astros: Jeff Bagwell & Craig Biggio—The two were teammates for 15 seasons and hit their prime years in the major leagues together, helping develop Houston into one of the most competitive clubs in the N.L. During Bagwell and Biggio’s leadership years, they led Houston to six postseason appearances, including the 2005 World Series, while the club posted a .531 winning percentage during their 15 years together. They are ranked one and two in almost every offensive category in Astros club history—games, at-bats, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, RBI, walks, extra-base hits, runs created and hit by pitch. Bagwell is first in homers and Biggio ranks third, while Biggio is second in stolen bases and Bagwell ranks sixth among Houston players. Their names are synonymous with one another and with the success they shared as teammates in helping build Houston into a great baseball franchise. Both of their names evoke wonderful memories of the Astros and they are mirror images of the greatness they shared as the best players in team history.
Kansas City Royals: George Brett—Kansas City has had several players with long careers in Royal blue, but none had the flair and accomplishments as Brett. He won batting titles, MVP awards and totaled more than 3,000 hits while helping guide the club to its first World Series title in 1985. He is considered one of the best clutch hitters of his era in both regular and postseason games and is the only player with a Hall of Fame plaque displaying a Royals cap. He also created a cult following when he chased a .400 batting average in 1980, with his pine-tar home run, and his ALCS homer off Goose Gossage. When creating the perfect Royals player, KC fans would sculpt a figure created out of George Brett’s mold.
Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout—During the club’s 55 years in the major leagues, the Angels have had numerous star players performing for them, but none of them were home grown or played for the club for a long time without creating a splash of greatness in other cities for different big league franchises. They have had Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew, Fred Lynn and Frank Robinson—among others—who played for the team but captured MVP seasons with other clubs. The Angels have had their own MVP winners in Don Baylor and Vladimir Guerrero, but those two players also had starring roles with other teams. At 23, Mike Trout has been branded the player who symbolizes the greatest baseball talent to dress in an Angels uniform. In his first four full seasons in the majors, he has won Rookie of the Year honors; an A.L. MVP award along with three second-place finishes in the MVP balloting. He is a four-time Silver Slugger award winner and a four-time All-Star, who is the only player in major league history to win consecutive All-Star game MVP awards. Trout is viewed as the face of the franchise and the club could probably change its logo from the letter “A” with a halo to a mug shot of their star center fielder without any complaints.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Jackie Robinson—The history of the team is steeped in legendary baseball personalities that include Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Steve Garvey. But the most exceptional identity tied to Dodgers baseball is Jackie Robinson. Not only did he lay the path for African Americans in MLB with honor, integrity and character, he did it with Hall of Fame talent that earned him great fame on the field and tremendous respect from every true baseball fan off it.
Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton—The franchise was introduced to the major leagues in 1993 and with a revolving door of star players coming and going, they have two World Series titles under their belt. But behind the frequent building and dismantling of teams by ownership, the rebuilding process has not allowed a player to stay in the Sunshine State for an extended period of time. Stanton’s signing of a 13-year, $300 million deal and his prodigious power and hitting ability are an attempt to create a strong fan base in Miami. This move and Stanton’s popularity make him the face of Marlins baseball.
Milwaukee Brewers: Robin Yount—The two greatest players in Brewers history were Yount and Paul Molitor, but Yount came up through the organization as a teenager and spent his entire career with the club. He was the top player on the franchises only pennant winner and collected all of his 3,142 hits in a Brewers uniform, making him the most popular player in team history.
Minnesota Twins: Kirby Puckett—This selection may be the most difficult when reviewing such names as Walter Johnson, Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew. Although Johnson may have been the greatest right-handed pitcher in MLB history, he created his legend in the early 20th century as a member of the Washington Senators before the club moved to Minnesota. Killebrew was the best right-handed home run hitter in the A.L. during his time with the Twins and Carew was a perennial batting champion. But Puckett was the leader of a Twins team that captured two World Series titles and his all-around ability on the field of play along with his leadership in the clubhouse and joyful exuberance among fans helped him become admired by all. With his clutch postseason performances and Hall of Fame career, Puckett is the face of the franchise.
New York Mets: Tom Seaver—He spent the majority of his Hall of Fame career with the Mets and brought them out from being perennial losers to world champions in 1969. Nicknamed Tom Terrific, he gave the Mets their first superstar and helped create a tremendous fan base generated through his outstanding pitching intelligence and performances along with his charismatic personality.
New York Yankees: Babe Ruth—No MLB team has more iconic names on its all-time roster than the Yankees with Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Ford, Jackson, Jeter, Rivera and so on. But none of those names, no matter what their accomplishments are in pinstripes, can measure up to Ruth. Ruth changed the game with his home run power and was the greatest offensive force in the game’s history. His greatness extends past his hitting exploits with his two 20-win seasons and American League ERA title as a pitcher. Ruth’s ability as a ballplayer made him an international star and his name is synonymous with greatness. When a performer outshines all stars in his sport or occupation, he is often referred to as the Babe Ruth of his sport or occupation. That certainly makes Ruth not only the face of the Yankees franchise, but also arguably the face of MLB.
Oakland A’s: Reggie Jackson—The Athletics have played in Philadelphia and Kansas City before moving to Oakland and had high profile players such as Eddie Collins, Frank Baker, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Lefty Grove during their championship years in Philadelphia during the early 1900s. But because of his undeniable ability to hit clutch home runs along with his flamboyant and controversial personality, Reggie Jackson is the most identifiable name and face in franchise history—especially with the clubs he helped guide to three consecutive World Series titles in the 1970s.
Philadelphia Phillies: Mike Schmidt—Although he didn’t have the charm of an Ernie Banks or Roberto Clemente, Schmidt earned his admiration through his never-ending desire to be the best player he could be. During his time in Philadelphia, he won eight N.L. home run titles, three MVP awards and10 Gold Glove awards while earning 12 All-Star appearances, a World Series title and clubbing a franchise record 548 home runs. He had some rough times in the city of brotherly love, but in the end Phillies fans will forever love him.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Roberto Clemente—He brought pride, leadership and great baseball performances to the Pittsburgh franchise during his 18 years with the club. Clemente helped the Pirates win two World Series titles while capturing four batting crowns, one league MVP, 3,000 hits and 12 Gold Glove Awards. He was one of the greatest players of his generation and he was more known for being one of the greatest humanitarians of his time.
St. Louis Cardinals: Stan Musial—The Cardinals have had so many great players during their history, but no individual compares to “The Man.” Musial was the perfect player who was among the best in the game. He was loyal and gracious to the Cardinals, his teammates and his fans. No player represents the great St. Louis organization better than Stan Musial.
San Diego Padres: Tony Gwynn—There is no player in Padres history who can measure up to Gwynn in terms of ability to play the game or the admiration he earned for his style in showcasing the sport. He was a great MLB ambassador who earned the respect of fans and legendary players like Ted Williams, while keeping opponents in awe of his hitting ability. He was an eight-time batting champ and owner of a 3,141 hits and a .338 lifetime batting mark—standards that make him the stamp of the San Diego Padres franchise.
San Francisco Giants: Willie Mays—when he broke into the major leagues in 1951, many baseball experts labeled him as the greatest player in the game. Today, more than 42 years after he played his last big league game, Mays is still revered as one of the game’s greatest players. He is what all five-tool players have been compared to for decades and his career numbers are among the best in history. He brought a class and style to the game that has never been duplicated—and for that, Mays will always be the name all Giants fans will refer to when discussing the franchise’s top performer.
Seattle Mariners: Ken Griffey Jr.--Griffey possessed everything fans look for in a player—youth, extreme all-around ability and a love for the game that he displayed in his performances. He helped put Seattle baseball on the map and was followed by more fans around the major leagues during his time in a Seattle Mariners uniform than any other player. With his 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards as the best defensive center fielder in the game and his fluid swing that generated monstrous home runs, Griffey was frequently the main attraction on highlight reels. His image was the centerpiece for MLB during the 1990s and because of his dominance and popularity, Griffey is the face of the franchise.
Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria—The Rays suffered a losing season in their first 10 years in MLB (1998-2007), but when Longoria made his debut in 2008, the tide began to turn in Tampa Bay. Longoria’s first eight seasons in the majors helped the Rays to six winning campaigns, four postseason appearances and one A.L. pennant. During his time with the Rays, he has averaged 26 homers and 88 RBI per year while helping Tampa average 88 wins per year as a club. Along with his Rookie of the Year award in 2008, two Gold Glove awards and three All-Star appearances, Longoria’s most memorable accomplishment was his two-homer game—including an 11th inning walk-off blast—in Tampa’s final game of the season on Sept. 28, 2011 to clinch a wild card playoff berth. Those accomplishments make Longoria the most identifiable player in franchise history.
Texas Rangers: Nolan Ryan—The Rangers are a storied franchise that has been a part of Major League Baseball since 1961 as the Washington Senators before moving to Texas to become the Rangers in 1972. They have had a number of Hall of Famers play for the club and some players like Ivan Rodriguez and Michael Young, who are identified as the superstars who had the longest tenure as successful performers as members of the Rangers—both players rank high among club offensive leaders. But it is Nolan Ryan, the Texas born, living legend who is most identified as the team’s face of the franchise. Despite playing only five of his 27 big league seasons with the Rangers, it was Ryan’s status as a future Hall of Famer and his ageless fastball that elevated his stardom in the Lone Star State. Ryan joined the Rangers at the age of 42 and during his stay with the club, he added to his career strikeout record, became the oldest pitcher to fan 300 batters in a season and tossed two of his seven no-hitters with Texas at an advanced age. It also helped that Ryan was the team president when the Rangers appeared in consecutive World Series in 2010-2011.
Toronto Blue Jays: Joe Carter—The franchise has been in existence for almost 40 years and during that span (1977-2015) the club has two World Series titles, three Cy Young winners and two league MVPs, but the name that sings the greatest tune in club annals is Joe Carter. He is the author of the most memorable and exciting home run in club history with his walk-off, three-run blast that clinched the 1993 World Series in Game 6 over the Philadelphia Phillies. With six 100-RBI seasons during his seven years with the Blue Jays, Carter earned his reputation as a clutch performer. But his crowning achievement remains to be his series-winning home run that keeps his face as the one that identifies the 40 years of Toronto Blue Jays baseball.
Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper—The original home of the franchise, the Montreal Expos, never brought home a championship team to identify the city to a historic player. Andre Dawson, Gary Carter and Tim Raines are the top players in club history during its time in Montreal, but all three players found fame in other cities with different teams. Harper has already established his baseball skills with top rookie honors, an MVP and a playoff appearance at only 22 years of age. When the Nationals are the topic of conversation, no player from the early Montreal days are as prominent as the current and future stardom of Harper.