Jeff Banister has had an unusual road to the top as a big league manager. But, that is not unusual for Banister. His entire life has been marked by perseverance from one roadblock to another. As a teenager, he was told he would probably lose his leg to cancer. After seven operations, he not only returned to play baseball, he moved on to play at the junior college level as a catcher. After a horrific play at home plate with major league scouts watching left him temporarily paralyzed from the neck down, Banister defied doctors to become a junior college All-American and earn a scholarship to the University of Houston. The Pirates thought enough of his ability to draft him in the 26th round in 1986.
Banister’s eventful ride to this point probably would have been enough to convince most people that maybe it was time to look for a different path in life, but Jeff Banister is not most people. He had defied the odds to make it this far and was not done yet. The light-hitting, defensive-minded catcher played six seasons in the Pirates organization and finally got a call up to the majors when they needed a temporary backup after an injury to Mike LaValliere. Banister played one game for the Pirates in 1991, beating out an infield single against Atlanta’s Dan Petry at Three Rivers Stadium. He never played in the field, and he never played in the majors again. Banister is one of just 15 non-pitchers in baseball history to come to the plate only once and get a hit. His batting average is frozen in time at 1.000.
His coaching career began as a player-coach with Double-A Carolina in 1993, and his first managerial job was in the New York-Penn League in 1994. He had a 299-330 record in five seasons as a minor league manager, before serving as field coordinator for the Pirates from 1999-2002 and then as the club’s minor league field coordinator for eight years after that. Banister was the bench coach for four seasons with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, whose only season as the Rangers’ hitting coach was when they went to their first World Series in 2010. Banister’s introduction came six weeks after manager Ron Washington‘s resignation for personal reasons.
Before the 2015 season could really get started, a rash of injuries to the Rangers pitching staff had everyone thinking the nightmare of 2014 was going to continue. Yu Darvish and Lisalverto Bonilla were both lost early on to Tommy John surgery and Derek Holland also went down with a shoulder injury. In a division with the preseason favorite to win the American League, the Seattle Mariners, and the newly resurgent in-state rival Houston Astros, the Rangers were looking at a big hill to climb. Banister not only got the Rangers playing quality baseball in 2015, they ended up winning the AL West and are one win from advancing to the ALCS going into Wednesday.
Banister’s will to win and fight through the longest of odds can definitely be seen in this years Rangers club. Spins on positive thinking and perseverance are everywhere you turn. But when they have been a day in, day out part of your everyday existence for as long as they have been for Banister, they tend to rub off with a stronger influence. Speaking to USAToday earlier this season, Banister said, “The impact is I don’t take any day for granted. When I wake up every morning and put my feet on the floor or I sit up in the bed, I thank God I have another day. I understand perseverance, I understand what hard work means, that pain is one of those things we’re given to let us know we’re alive from time to time.”
Banister’s ball club seems to enjoy playing the game and has now set their sights on a long run through the playoffs. If they take anything from Banister, they will be ready to deal with whatever comes their way.