Whether performing at home or on the road, Ernie Banks always believed it was a beautiful day to play baseball.
Game-worn jerseys of the beloved Chicago Cubs star generate interest when they come to auction, and SCP Auctions is offering a flannel from the bittersweet 1969 season.
The road jersey will be part of the company’s 2019 Summer Premier sale in August. It’s the fourth Banks jersey the company has handled and perhaps the best of the lot.
The jersey might bring back bad memories for Cubs fans, who saw their team lead the National League East for 155 days before swooning in late summer and allowing the upstart New York Mets to zoom past them. The Mets would go on to an improbable postseason capped by a World Series victory against the powerful Baltimore Orioles, and the Cubs and their fans were left to wonder what might have been.
SCP has sold Banks jerseys before, with three of them pulling in more than six figures. Another 1969 road jersey sold for $161,484 in a 2015 sale. A home jersey from 1968 fetched $137,865 in August 2015, while a 1969 home jersey sold for $151,652 in 2014.
The story behind this latest jersey is intriguing, as it belonged to a longtime Cubs executive.
In May 1958, Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley hired Eldred R. “Salty” Saltwell as the team’s business manager. A native of Sioux City, Iowa, Saltwell rose to vice president by 1973 and was the team’s general manager in 1975-76. Saltwell had plenty of business in baseball before coming to the Cubs, working for the Sioux City Soos from 1947 to 1954. In 1954 he became vice president of the Western League, and from 1955 to 1956 he ran the Des Moines Cubs.
With the Cubs, Saltwell would serve as ticket manager, concessionaire, traveling secretary, vice president and GM. His hometown of Sioux City honored him in 2005 by electing him to the Greater Siouxland Athletic Association Hall of Fame.
Saltwell came to the Cubs just as Banks was beginning a two-year stretch as the N.L.’s most valuable player.
He developed many lasting friendships within the organization and was gifted the jersey when the Wrigley family sold the team to the Tribune Company in 1981. The now 95-year-old Saltwell kept the jersey in impeccable condition before handing it down to his daughter in 2007. It’s being offered for the first time directly from the family.
Banks had a productive season in 1969, finishing with 23 home runs and 106 RBI. He also made his 14th and final All-Star Game appearance, pinch hitting for Bob Gibson in the fifth inning and lining out to shortstop.
Banks wore his road uniform for that game too, as it was played at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. There is a lot of history behind those road jerseys, and SCP President David Kohler agrees.
“As most advanced flannel jersey collectors may know, a vintage Banks gamer has long been considered the third scarcest among all 500 Home Run Club members to acquire, behind only Mel Ott and Jimmie Foxx in completely original, unaltered condition,” Kohler said. “It is widely believed that more Babe Ruth jerseys exist, perhaps due to the tragic number of original Banks jerseys dismantled by card companies in recent decades for use on modern ‘swatch’ cards.
“This all-original specimen is essentially flawless in condition and preservation, not to mention coming with ideal documentation.”
The jersey front has “Chicago” across the front, with Banks’ No. 14 underneath it. The size is embroidered into the collar, and because the 1969 season was recognized as the centennial of professional baseball, the colorful MLB logo patch is sewn into the right sleeve. The familiar bear cub logo is on the left sleeve.
Banks was not only beloved; he was also a money player. He debuted in September 1953, and by the time he played his last game on Sept. 26, 1971, he had hit 512 home runs and had 1,636 RBI. Twice, he led the league in homers and RBI, and while his lifetime average was .274, he had plenty of credentials to reach the Hall of Fame in 1977.
The jersey certainly speaks to that legacy.