Lopez couldn't shake the second place habit in 1958, though Frank Lane, back in the A.L. as Indians general manager, gave the White Sox a boost toward triumph the following year. Lane sent veteran right-handed starter Early Wynn and outfielder Al Smith to the Sox for Minoso and utility infielder Fred Hatfield. The Sox also opened center field for young and speedy Jim Landis by sending Doby to Baltimore along with Harshman, the chief return being third baseman Billy Goodman.
The immediate results of all this reshuffling were to make fans lament the departure of a favorite in "Minnie" and hasten the development of Landis, who was a greyhound in the field and hit a respectable .277 with 15 home runs. Fox again led the batters with .300, and Lollar was tops in home runs with 20 and RBI with 84. Pierce (17-11), Donovan (15-14) and Wynn (14-16) formed the solid pitching nucleus that enabled the Sox to linger in second again in 1958 with 82-72.
Tormented as the White Sox were by failing to overhaul the Yankees year after year, their problems paled beside those of the Cubs, who couldn't achieve even mediocrity. When journeyman pitcher Dave Cole was traded to the Phillies in 1955 after being 3-8 the previous year he complained, "They're the only club I can beat."
From 1955 through 1958 the Cubs were sixth with 72-81, eighth with 60-94, tied for seventh with 72-82 and tied for fifth with 72-82. Managerial changes were futile. Hack's three-year reign ended after the 1956 season when gruff former catcher Bob Scheffing began an identical term as his successor. The results were indistinguishable.
Similarly inconsequential was Wrigley's habit of changing general managers. He gave up on Mathews' "Five Year Plan" and relegated him to being a paid observer by anointing Clarence "Pants" Rowland, who had managed the 1917 White Sox to Chicago's last World Series title, as his successor. One of Rowland's earliest moves was to get rid of the fading Kiner.
But 1955 wasn't a totally "lost season" because of the feats of three players, one of them Banks. He exploded with 44 home runs, five of them grand slams, and the most ever hit by a shortstop. Catcher Clyde McCullough marveled, "He doesn't swing the bat around very far. But he is quick and has strong wrists. This way he can take a little more time to watch a pitch."
The other two Cubs to make a splash were rookies. They were Sam "Toothpick" Jones, who pitched a no-hitter and led the staff with 14 wins, and outfielder Bob Speake, who replaced the aging and declining Sauer in the lineup on May 2 and by the end of the month was batting .304 with 10 home runs, four doubles, two triples and 31 RBI. It was a brief, deceptive burst of glory. By season's end, Speake was down to .218 with only two more homers and five additional RBI.
Hack's final season, 1956, made 1955 look good. Before the campaign even began, Sauer was gone but the Cubs probably would have finished last for the fourth time in nine years with or without him. About the only positive aspects of the season were provided by Banks who led the team in batting average (.297), home runs (28) and RBI (85), and right fielder Walt "Moose" Moryn who was second in all three categories with .285, 23 home runs and 69 RBI. Rush's 13-10 topped an erratic pitching staff.
Wrigley decided to clean house for 1957 and fired Hack as well as Mathews and Gallagher. Cub minor league executive John Holland took over the personnel chores and Charlie Grimm returned again. The Cubs were deep in vice presidents with three in Rowland, Grimm and Holland even if shy of field talent in 1957, which produced another tail-end finish though it could charitably be called seventh place since they tied with the Pirates.
Not that all was bleak. Banks hit 43 home runs and drove in 102 runs, alternating between shortstop and third base. First baseman Dale Long was acquired in a trade by Holland that sent Banks' former double-play partner Baker to the Pirates. Long batted .305 with 21 home runs and 62 RBI in only 123 games. Rookie right-handers Dick Drott, 15-11, and Moe Drabowsky, 13-15, promised an upturn in pitching quality.
Alas, neither Drott nor Drabowsky could maintain their success in 1958 though the Cubs won a few more games (72) with raw power. Injuries reduced Drott to 7-11 and Drabowsky to 9-11, with rookie Glen Hobbie (10-6) the only pitcher to win 10 games. There was no shortage of punch, however, the Cubs breaking the N.L. home run record for a season with 182. Five players hit 20 or more.
Banks led the quintet of bombers with 47 home runs, 129 RBI, a slugging percentage of .619 and 379 total bases, four categories in which he topped the league while batting .313. The others with 20 or more home runs were outfielders Moryn, (26), Lee Walls (24) and Bobby Thompson (21), and first baseman Long (20).
Not surprisingly, Banks was the runaway winner of the Most Valuable Player award even though his team finished in a tie for fifth. He brushed off all enthusiastic comparisons with Babe Ruth as a home run hitter.
"You could put all my homers end to end and I wouldn't be able to match Ruth," Banks insisted.
Despite the cannonade, the Cubs made no actual headway under Holland's and Scheffing's obvious scheme to take advantage of Wrigley Field's reputation as a home run heaven. Their largely lead-footed players contrasted starkly with the speedsters favored by the White Sox, who finally proved in 1959 that the race goes to the swiftest.
From Baseball, Chicago Style: A Tale of Two Teams, One City by Jerome Holtzman and George Vass.
Copyright © 2001 by Bonus Books, Inc.. Excerpted with permission.