“Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks’ 500th home run was the highlight of the very eventful 1970 Chicago Cubs baseball season.
It’s hard to pick a number one moment from a season that saw the Cubs put five players on the field who would go on to make the Hall of Fame and the closest pennant race featuring the Cubs in the last 80 years, but the one that Cub fans remember—even if they weren’t born yet—is Mr. Cub’s 500th homer.
When he hit his 500th homer on May 12, 1970, Ernie Banks became only the ninth player in baseball history to join the elite club of baseball’s best bashers—a sure ticket to the Hall of Fame, not that there was any doubt that Ernie would make it.
In 2021, the “500 homer club” now has 27 members.
The Cubs added the “basket” surrounding the outfield walls in 1970, so Cub fans were worried about Ernie’s 500th being a “cheapie.” But that didn’t happen. Banks hit a line shot into the left field bleachers that was hit so hard that nobody could handle it and it ricocheted back onto the field. Atlanta Brave outfielder Rico Carty retrieved it and gave it to Cub Willie Smith, who presented Ernie with the souvenir ball immediately.
Hit on a Tuesday, Mr. Cub’s clout came in front of only 5,264 fans—a typical early season weekday Wrigley Field crowd in those days.
Banks nearly tallied his 500th two days before in front of a huge Mother’s Day Wrigley Field crowd against the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds—in a unique way.
Reds pitcher Wayne Simpson good-naturedly vowed that Ernie wouldn’t hit his 500th that day, but he nearly did. Ernie took Simpson deep for a triple that bounced around the iconic Wrigley Field vines. As he steamed into third, Ernie thought about continuing on to home. Had he done so, his 500th would have been that rarest of rarities in baseball—an inside the park home run.
The 1970 season was the last in which Banks would start regularly. A knee injury later in the season put the Cub first baseman on the disabled list, and when he returned he platooned at the first sack with Jim Hickman and Joe Pepitone.
If the Cubs would have made the World Series though—and they nearly did—the fans would have seen Ernie Banks starting at first in the Fall Classic. Manager Leo Durocher would have been run out of town had he started anyone else besides Mr. Cub.
The Forgotten 1970 Chicago Cubs: Go and Glow, published by The History Press of Charleston, SC, is available at https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467149082.