It’s no secret that the St. Louis Cardinals had an interest in signing Ernie Banks when he was still playing for the Kansas City Monarchs. The Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer is one of three Hall of Famers to be born on January 31st, along with the pioneering Jackie Robinson and strikeout king Nolan Ryan.
Phil Rogers wrote a biography of Banks in 2011, Ernie Banks: Mr. Cub and the Summer of ’69 (Triumph Books), and wrote a little bit of how the Cardinals were interested in the future Hall of Famer. It was touched on briefly in George Vecsey’s book, Stan Musial: An American Life, but Rogers expands on what almost happened with the Cardinals and Banks.
The Cubs had scouted Banks while the Chicago White Sox had no interest in the shortstop despite the pleas from pitcher Connie Johnson. Frank Lane, best known as Trader Lane, was GM of the Sox at the time and their scouts were not impressed.
James Bell, better known as Cool Papa Bell, was working as a scout for the St. Louis Browns at the time. They were interested but owner Bill Veeck didn’t have the money to pay for Banks. It was Browns scouts Bell and Bill Norman that put Veeck’s eye on the shortstop. In turn, Veeck called up the Cubs when he realized he could not afford the asking price on Banks.
Bell turned his attention to the other team in St. Louis. Quincy Trouppe was a Cardinals scout and recommended Banks. Trouppe wrote in his autobiography of the Cardinals sending another scout to look at Banks. That report came back negative: “I don’t think he’s a major league prospect. He can’t hit, he can’t run, he has a pretty good arm, but it’s a scatter arm. I don’t like him.”
Richard Meyer was GM at the time for the Cards and Bell blamed him for not going after Banks.
Bell told Bob Broeg in 1977:
Just think what the Cardinals could have done in the races they were close to winning–in 1957 and 1960 alone–when, unlike now, they had a shortage of catchers and shortstopping.
Ah, yes…what could have been!