Jan 25, 2015

Remembering the Great Ernie Banks (1931-2015)

Ernie Banks is best remembered in many ways, a gentleman on & off the field, he was nick named "Mr. Cub" as well as "Mr. Sunshine". What baseball fan can not love the fact the Banks loved the game so much his most famous quote was "let's play two". Something many of the All Stars that came after him probably would't have time for.

Ernie Banks was a two time NL MVP & 14 time All Star who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. His cheerful nature made him one of the most popular Cubs players ever, as well as one of the games most respected & popular players of all time. He was the first player to have his uniform number (#14) retired by the Chicago Cubs. He was the first player to win back to back MVP Awards & was the 9th MLB Player to hit 500 career HRs. Banks must be remembered as one of the all time best hitting short stops, especially in an era when the position had mostly weak hitters.

Ernest Banks was born on January 31st 1931 in Dallas, Texas. He began his career in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs signed by non other than Cool Papa Bell. In 1951 he was drafted into the Army & after his two year stint returned to the Monarchs. In September 1953 he signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs & joined the team right away without playing in the minor leagues. At first he was signed to give the Cubs Gene Baker, who was suppose to be thier first black player some company. Instead Baker got injured & Banks was the Cubs first black player. He remained in the Cubs line up for 424 straight games.

In 1954 he hit 19 HRs which was a shortstop record for 53 years. He came in second in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Wally Moon but ahead of Hank Aaron. In 1955 he blossomed into a super star, he became the first short stop to hit 30 plus HRs & drive in 100 plus RBIs, something he would do four times. He hit 40 plus HRs (44) for the first of four straight years. That season he also hit a record five grand slams.

The next two seasons were both MVP seasons for Mr. Banks, he led the NL in HRs (47) RBIs (129) slugging (.614) games (154) & at bats (617) batting .313 (6th in the NL) with 119 runs scored (second in the NL). His 47 HRs are still a record for short stops. In 1959 he led the league in RBIs (143) & games (154) hitting 45 HRs (second to Eddie Mathews) & batting .304. In 1960 he regained the HR crown hitting 41 while driving in 117 runs. 

In 1961 he was moved over to first base in order to prolong his career from the wear & tear on his aching knees. He would play more games at first base than short stop in his career. In the 1960's Banks would be a consistent All Star, but not lead the league in any more major categories. He would hit 30 plus HRs three times, with 20 plus seasons seven times. He drove in over 90 runs five times & over 100 runs three times. He did not hit over .300 again which hurt his career batting average. In 1962 he suffered a brutal beaning that left him on the field unconscious, he spent two days in the hospital & returned to the line up four days later hitting two HRs. In 1963 Banks Cubs had their first winning season since the 1940's.

In 1966 the Cubs hired Leo Durocher as manager, he felt Banks was not the same player he was in the 1950s but he had to play him. He could not trade him or bench him because the fans loved him so. Durocher & Banks remained together until 1971 when Ernie hung 'em up. 

There was a lot made of the racial relations between him & Durocher, Banks later said "My philosophy about race relations is that I'm the man and I'll set my own patterns in life. I don't rely on anyone else's opinions. I look at a man as a human being; I don't care about his color. Some people feel that because you are black you will never be treated fairly, and that you should voice your opinions, be militant about them. I don't feel this way. You can't convince a fool against his will... If a man doesn't like me because I'm black, that's fine. I'll just go elsewhere, but I'm not going to let him change my life".  Banks may not have been a loud crusader but he certainly made a difference & set examples that all races have to respect.

In 1969, the year the Cubs had one of its strongest teams ever, Banks at age 37, hit 23 HRs with 19 doubles driving in 106 runs batting .253. His slugging in HRs & RBIs was second to Ron Santo, on a team with four future Hall of Famers (Banks, Santo, Billy Williams & Fergie Jenkins). That year the Cubs blew an 8 1/2 game lead in August, to the Amazing New York Mets who went on to win the World Series.

In his spectacular 19 year career Ernie Banks (2528 games) never played in a playoff or World Series game. In his time the Cubs had just six winning seasons, finishing second & winning better than 85 games just twice.

In 1970 he hit his 500th HR & retired from playing baseball the next year. He served as a Cubs coach for two seasons but was a life long team ambassador. He was named honorary Cub in 1984 when the team won the NL Eastern Division. In 1999 he was named short stop on baseballs All Century Team. A statue of him was unveiled outside of Wrigley Field in 2008.

Outside of baseball he worked as a banker & made many wise investments, listening to the advice of team owner Phil Wrigley. By the time he was 55 years old it is said he was worth over $4 million. He was partners in a Ford dealership, was appointed to the board of directors for the Chicago Transit Authority & even met the Pope receiving a medal from him. He was involved in many charities base in Chicago as well. 

Family: Banks was married four times & had three children. 

On January 23rd, Banks passed away due to a heart attack at age 83. He was honored by the mayor of Chicago, the president & by Major League Baseball. He will be missed.

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