Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer and baseball icon Ernie Banks has passed away at the age of 83.
His death was announced on Friday night by the Chicago Tribune, and was confirmed by Ernie’s wife, Liz Banks.
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said the following during a released team 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.”
Many would agree with the above statement, as Cubs fans voted him the greatest player in franchise history.
A 14-time All-Star, Banks was/is arguably to Chicago as Stan Musial was/is to St. Louis, and Ted Williams was/is to Boston. He played his entire 19-year career with the Cubs, and is still, even after his passing, a beloved figure within the city of Chicago. Nicknamed “Mr. Cub”, Banks’ positive attitude and sportsmanship-like demeanor became staples for him, despite playing for an organization that never even made the postseason during his career.
His number 14 was retired by the Cubs in 1982, the first number in team history to have been retired.
Born on January 31st, 1931, Banks made his debut with the Chicago Cubs on September 17th, 1953. It was historic as he became the first ever African-American player in Cubs history. Years after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Banks and a handful of other players had begun careers in MLB without having to play in the minor leagues first.
In 1954, his first full season, and his official rookie season, Ernie Banks also was one half of the first ever African-American double-play tandem in MLB history, with his partner being second baseman Gene Baker. Banks would have a successful 1954 season, finishing in second in Rookie of the Year voting.
Over the course of his 19 major league seasons, Banks hit 512 home runs (tied with Eddie Matthews for 22nd all-time), had a career batting average of .274, garnered 2,583 career hits, and 1,636 career RBI’s.
His best two seasons came in 1958 and 1959. He won back-to-back NL MVP Awards, hit a combined 92 home runs, had an average of .313 in ’58 (.304 in ’59), and hit 272 total RBI’s combined in both seasons.
In 1977, he and his accomplishments were immortalized forever in Cooperstown as he became an inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the first Cubs player to receive such an honor. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Ernie Banks also holds the major league record for most games played without a postseason appearance (2,528), which makes the fact he spent his entire career with the Cubs (something he stated in his memoir that he did not regret) even more respectable.
One of the most positive and upbeat players of all time, Banks was known for his famous catchphrase:
“It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame….let’s play two!”
The love he had for the game is immeasurable, as is the admiration teammates, fans, and athletes in general have for him.
Ernie Banks is an icon in the city of Chicago, and to the sport of baseball…and he will truly be missed.