September 14, 1957: Ernie Banks blasts three home runs in win over Pirates
The Chicago Cubs were going nowhere fast heading into a mostly meaningless Saturday doubleheader on September 14, 1957, with the seventh-place Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs were mired in eighth place, 2½ games below the Pirates. Only 6,170 fans showed up to see if the Cubs could close the gap on the Pirates in their effort to escape the National League cellar. One of the only bright spots for the Cubs that summer had been the play of their All-Star shortstop Ernie Banks, who went into the day with 37 homers and 92 runs batted in.1
The Cubs promptly lost the first game, 3-1, wasting an outstanding pitching performance by rookie Dick Drott when Jim Brosnan in relief surrendered a ninth inning two-run home run to Frank Thomas to break a 1-1 tie. The Pirates had taken a 1-0 lead off Drott in the fifth inning on an unearned run when center fielder Bob Speake dropped Bill Mazeroski’s routine fly ball for a two-base error. Danny Kravitz, who entered the game batting .115, then looped a single to center to drive in Mazeroski for the game’s first run.2 The Cubs demonstrated their futility by loading the bases with no outs in the sixth and then failing to score.
They did manage to tie the score in the bottom of the eighth when Bobby Adams and Ernie Banks hit back-to-back one-out singles to put runners on first and third. Former Pirate Dale Long then grounded to former Cub Gene Baker at short, but Baker’s errant throw to first enabled Adams to tie the score.3 Converted position player Eddie O’Brien, who had started his first major-league game on the mound, retired Walt Moryn and Eddie Haas to escape further trouble. Then, after Thomas’s home run in the ninth, O’Brien retired the Cubs in order in the bottom half to secure a complete-game victory. It was the first, and as it turned out, only win of O’Brien’s brief major-league pitching career.4
The second game pitted the Cubs’ Dave Hillman against the Pirates’ rookie side-armer Whammy Douglas. Banks got the Cubs off to a good start in the bottom of the first, cracking a two-out solo home run onto Waveland Avenue behind the left-field bleachers for his 38th home run of the season. He made it Banks 2, Pirates 0 in the bottom of the fourth, homering into the left-field bleachers for his second home run and only the second hit off Douglas. Meanwhile, Hillman had scattered three singles over the first five innings. In the sixth, however, he allowed a one-out single to Paul Smith and then, with two outs, surrendered a single to Baker and doubles to Bob Skinner and Thomas. When the dust settled, Hillman was in the showers, relieved by Brosnan, and the Pirates had forged a 3-2 lead.
To their credit, the Cubs immediately bounced back in the bottom half against Johnny O’Brien, first-game winner Eddie’s twin brother, who had come on to pitch after Douglas had been removed for pinch-hitter Dee Fondy the previous inning. O‘Brien began by walking Adams and Banks to put himself into immediate hot water. Dale Long was next and stroked O’Brien’s second pitch over the right-field bleachers for a three-run homer to put the Cubs back in front, 5-3. O’Brien managed to settle down and retire the side after Long’s blast, allowing only a two-out single to Bobby Morgan.
Brosnan retired the Pirates in order in the top of the seventh, including inducing pinch-hitter Roberto Clemente to ground out to second to end the inning. Bob Purkey relieved for Pittsburgh and set down the Cubs in order in their half of the inning. In the eighth Brosnan struck out Smith but, after walking Bill Virdon, left the game due to a sore pitching shoulder.5 Cubs manager Bob Scheffing brought in the usually reliable Turk Lown, who struck out Baker before allowing a single to Skinner to put the tying run on base with runners on first and second. Lown escaped trouble, however, by striking out Thomas to end the inning.
In the bottom of the inning, Banks greeted Purkey with his third home run of the game, another blast into the left-field bleachers. It was his 40th home run of the year and put him into a tie with Hank Aaron for the league lead.6 Long then worked a walk. Moryn doubled to drive him in and run the score to 7-3 before Purkey settled down and retired the side.
Lown wrapped up the victory in the ninth by retiring Gene Freese and Mazeroski on groundouts and pinch-hitter John Powers on a pop fly to first. Jim Brosnan, with his inning and two-thirds of scoreless relief, was the winning pitcher, raising his record to 1-1 for the day since he was the losing pitcher in the opener. Ironically, first-game winning pitcher Eddie O’Brien’s twin brother Johnny, who surrendered Long’s three-run homer in the sixth, was the losing pitcher.7 The doubleheader split brought the Cubs’ record to an uninspiring 54-87. They would go on to win eight of their last 13 games to finish 62-92. That record was good enough to tie the Pirates for seventh place and, depending on whether you view their glass as half-full or half-empty, escape the basement.8
Banks ended the second game 3-for-3 with a walk, four runs scored and three batted in. His three-homer game was the second of what would be his career total of four such games. Already a bona-fide star in his fourth full big-league campaign, he was on the cusp of his two greatest seasons. Playing the demanding shortstop position, he would win the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award for fifth-place teams in both 1958 and 1959, and would be well on his way to the Hall of Fame.
This article appears in "Wrigley Field: The Friendly Confines at Clark and Addison" (SABR, 2019), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To read more stories from this book online, click here.
In addition to the sources listed in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com for play-by-play details of the game.
1 Banks would finish with 43 home runs, 102 runs batted in, and a .285 batting average. Other bright spots included outfielder Walt Moryn, who slammed 19 home runs and drove in 88 runs while batting .289, and Dale Long, who batted .305 with 21 homers in 397 at-bats. Rookie pitcher Dick Drott would show great promise in winning 15 games against 11 losses with a 3.58 earned-run average.
2 Speake redeemed himself slightly by throwing Kravitz out at second trying to stretch his single.
3 The Cubs had traded Baker and Dee Fondy to the Pirates on May 1 for Dale Long and Lee Walls. The trade was particularly hard on Banks, since Baker, also an African-American, was his roommate and best friend on the team. Ernie Banks and Jim Enright, Mr. Cub (Chicago: Follett Publishing Company, 1971), 94.
4 It was also the only game O’Brien started in his big-league career and his only complete game. He had no further decisions in five major-league appearances spread over three seasons and finished with a 3.31 earned-run average. The Pirates had signed him and his twin brother, Johnny, out of Seattle University in 1953.
5 Irving Vaughn, “Cubs Split; Banks Hits Three Homers,” Chicago Tribune, September 15, 1957: part 2, page 1.
6 Aaron ended the season with 44 home runs to match his uniform number and edge Banks, with 43 homers on the year, for the home-run title.
7 Johnny O’Brien was also attempting to convert to pitching from the infield. He would return to second base the following year with a 1-3 lifetime record and 5.61 ERA from the mound.
8 That is, the Cubs did not finish in eighth place; but on the other hand, no team finished below them.