Bancroft was the classic shortstop. He had quick hands for a ground ball or a deft tag, quickness afoot for covering a middle infielder’s territory, and quick-wittedness for lightning response to defensive opportunity. At bat, he was a dexterous switch-hitter, ideal for the leadoff or second spot. In his time, he was considered by most to be better than Maranville, which meant he was the best.
The formidable Mickey Doolan had been the Phillies’ shortstop for nine years before jumping to Baltimore of the Federal League in 1914, and the team floundered until Bancroft arrived from Portland (Pacific Coast League). A beauty from the start, he was a key player in the 1915 pennant drive and two subsequent second-place finishes. Thereafter, the team descended to the cellar, where owner William Baker’s policy of selling stars for cash would keep it for a generation. For Bancroft, the Giants gave Baker plenty of money, 35-year-old Art Fletcher, and the first, and lesser, of two Giant pitchers named Hubbell.
Bancroft’s three-plus years with the Giants were his best. He was McGraw’s field leader and designated cutoff man. In 1921-22, he led the league in putouts, assists, and double plays. He became a .300 batter, had a six-for-six day in 1920, and hit for the cycle in 1921.
In late 1923, he was dealt to the Braves with Casey Stengel and Bill Cunningham for Billy Southworth and Joe Oeschger. McGraw, all heart, said he was giving up the league’s best shortstop as a favor to Christy Mathewson (then fronting the listless Braves as their president) and to Bancroft, who would become their playing manager. The truth was that Bancroft was an aging 32, and New York had 20-year-old hotshot Travis Jackson with no place to put him.
A step slower in the field, Bancroft still was a class act, but he couldn’t pry the Braves out of the second division. His fine career ended with two years at Brooklyn and a few games with the Giants as he made the inevitable transition to coaching. He ran a downhill course through the minors. Briefly, the old roughneck even managed a women’s softball team.
Lifetime, Bancroft remains sixth in total chances for shortstops with 11,844, first in average putouts per game (2.5) and tied for second in average chances per game (6.3).