Farewell, Mr. Cub

Ernie Banks leaves legacy of love for the game

The smile on Ernie Banks’ face never seemed to fade.

And as Cubs’ faithful and baseball fans throughout the world mourn the passing of a legend, Banks’ smile still provides light on an otherwise gloomy day.

Banks passed away on Jan. 23 at the age of 83. Chicago’s “Mr. Cub” was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. His exceptional 19-season career with the Chicago Cubs made him a beloved baseball hero and symbol of the joyful abandon the game brings to players and fans alike.

Ernie Banks played 19 years for the Chicago Cubs, leaving behind a legacy of outstanding play and unwavering enthusiasm. Banks redefined the hitting expectations at shortstop with power never before seen at the position. He finished his career with 512 home runs and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977. - BL-1972A (Doug McWilliams / National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

His sunny personality was embodied by his favorite words: “It’s a great day for a ballgame. Let’s play two!”

“We are saddened by the passing of one of the game's most celebrated figures, Ernie Banks,” said Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark. “We will miss his warm, affable personality and his great passion for baseball, for the Hall of Fame and his fellow members. We send our condolences to his family and to all of his many fans on the loss of this tremendous baseball legend and Hall of Fame member."

Ernest Banks was born Jan. 31, 1931 in Dallas, Texas. A three-sport athlete through high school, Banks chose to make baseball his career when he signed with a Negro Leagues barnstorming team at the age of 17. In 1950, he signed on with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. Banks then served two years in the U.S. Army.

In 1953, Banks returned to the Monarchs and caught the eye of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs signed him for the next season as a shortstop, and Ernie became the first African-American player in Cubs history. Banks made his major league debut on Sep. 17, 1953 and hit his first home run just three days later.

By 1954, Banks had earned the club’s starting shortstop job. In 1955, he hit five grand slams in one season, a major league record that would stand for 30 years. That same season he hit 44 home runs, an MLB record for a shortstop at the time.

It’s a great day for a ballgame. Let’s play two!

Ernie Banks

Banks continued to deliver in 1958 and 1959. In ’58 he hit .313 and led the league with 129 RBIs. He also hit 47 long balls in 1958, his career high. His momentum continued the next season with a .304 batting average, 45 home runs and a career-high 143 RBI. He was named National League Most Valuable Player both years.

With the glove, Banks led NL shortstops in fielding in 1960 (winning a Gold Glove Award) and again in 1961.

“Ernie was a trailblazer, and of course he always had fun playing this game,” said Hall of Famer Billy Williams.

From 1962 until he retired, Ernie continued to lead the Cubs from a different spot on the field: First base. He led NL first basemen in assists five times, and in 1967 Banks was honored with the Lou Gehrig Memorial award.

On May 12, 1970 “Mr. Cub” hit his 500th home run.

Banks’ last game was on Sept. 26, 1971. While he never played in any postseason games, he participated in 14 All-Star Games and ended his career with 512 home runs. Banks still holds Cubs team records for extra base hits (1,009), games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421) and total bases (4,706).

“We mourn the passing of a baseball icon whose eternal optimism and zest for life were unsurpassed,” said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. “After hitting his 500th home run, Ernie summed up his feelings by saying: ‘The riches of the game are in the thrills, not the money.’ That was the essence of Ernie Banks.

“There was no one who adored the Cubs and the city of Chicago more than Ernie. He once asked me who was in charge of the Seven Wonders of the World. When I asked him why, he told me that he heard they were being re-evaluated and that he wanted to be sure Wrigley Field made the list.

“RIP Mr. Cub. You will be missed and revered in Cooperstown. Wish we could play two.”

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