Legendary shortstop and first baseman Ernie Banks, the longtime face of the Chicago Cubs, passed away Friday evening at the age of 83.
Dubbed “Mr. Cub” during a 19-year MLB career that included 512 home runs, 1,636 RBIs, 14 All Star appearances, and two Most Valuable Player awards, Banks originally began his professional career as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues. The Cubs paid the Monarchs $10,000 to buyout Ernies’ contract in 1953.
Banks was known for his trademark line, “It’s a great day for baseball, let’s play two!” Fittingly, the man played two positions successfully during his MLB career. Banks debuted for the Cubs at shortstop in 1953, and Ernie played the final 10 seasons in Chicago at first base, a position he switched to in 1962.
During his 19-year career in Chicago, Banks never reached the postseason. The Cubs looked like a sure bet in 1969, but the team suffered a collapse in September of that season, allowing the New York Mets to advance to the postseason from the National League. Even so, Banks became a living legend during the time he spent playing in Wrigley Field, a career that eventually saw a statue dedicated in his memory.
In 1958, Banks was the first player in baseball history to win the Most Valuable Player award as part of a losing ball club. The Cubs were 72-82 that season, but Banks hit.313 alongside 47 home runs and 129 RBIs. It was arguably the best season of his career.
Banks followed up his legendary 1958 season by winning the MVP award a second time in 1959. This was the first time in the history of the National League that a player won the award in consecutive years. Known for his home run power throughout the 1950s, Banks continued to be a threat to bat in runs throughout the 1960s while his home run power started to fade. Ernie hit more than 100 RBIs on three occasions during the 1960s.
On May 12, 1970, Ernie Banks became the eighth man to join the 500 home run club. He appeared in 72 games that season, followed up by 39 games in 1971. After that 1971 campaign, Banks decided to retire from the game. He still ranks as the Cubs’ all-time leader in games played, at-bats, plate appearances, and extra base hits. Banks was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, his first year eligible for the honor. Additionally, President Obama awarded Banks the Medal of Freedom in 2013.
Tributes came in from around the sports world Friday night as the news of Ernie Banks’ death spread.
Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts also released a statement.
“Words cannot express how important Ernie Banks will always be to the Chicago Cubs, the city of Chicago and Major League Baseball. He was one of the greatest players of all time. He was a pioneer in the major leagues. And more importantly, he was the warmest and most sincere person I’ve ever known.”
The Chicago Cubs made Banks’ number 14 the first jersey ever retired by the organization in 1982. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made mention of Ernie’s iconic jersey number in a statement released Friday night.
“Ernie Banks was more than a baseball player. He was one of Chicago’s greatest ambassadors. He loved this city as much as he loved – and lived for – the game of baseball. This year, during every Cubs game, you can bet that No. 14 will be watching over his team. And if we’re lucky, it’ll be a beautiful day for not just one ballgame, but two.”
[Photo via USA Today]