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“Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks Passes Away at Age 83

Cubs legend who coined the phrase “Let’s play two!” passed away on Friday after a long illness.

Baseball lost one of the all-time greats on Friday when “Mr. Cub”, Ernie Banks passed away at age 83, just days short of his 84th birthday which would have been on January 31.  One of, if not the most, beloved players to ever don a baseball uniform, Banks was one of the most approachable, honest and light-hearted players to ever take the field.  He was famously quoted as saying “It’s a great day for baseball.  Let’s play two!” on numerous occasions, a phrase that is proudly displayed on the statue in his likeness outside of Wrigley Field.

Banks played for 19 seasons from 1953 to 1971, all with the Chicago Cubs.  During that time, Banks appeared in 14 Major League All Star games, collected 2,583 hits, 512 home runs, 1,636 runs batted in and finished his career with a .274 lifetime batting average.  Despite all of those accomplishments, Banks never once played in a postseason game, with the Cubs finishing below the .500 mark in 13 of those 19 seasons.  

Banks was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY in his first year of eligibility in 1977 and was voted to Baseball’s All-Century team in 1999.  The Chicago Cubs retired his number 14 in 1982; it was the first number to be retired in the franchise’s history and remains one of only six numbers which the club has retired.  Banks served as an ambassador to the Cubs’ franchise following his retirement, and was named an honorary member of the 1984 Cubs team that won the NL East to earn their first postseason berth since 1945.  Banks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 alongside the likes of former President Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey.  At the ceremony, Banks presented President Obama with a bat that had been used by Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson.

Banks was born and raised in Dallas, Texas and fell in love with the game of baseball at a very early age.  Banks stormed the Negro Leagues at age 17 and was signed by the Kansas City Monarchs in 1950.  Banks played a single season for the Monarchs before joining the Army.  Following his discharge, Banks returned to Kansas City and played one more season before he was signed by the Chicago Cubs in the fall of 1953.

Banks appeared for the Cubs for the first time on September 17, 1953 at shortstop.  Banks would play in ten games that season and was the Cubs’ first African American player.  He was joined in 1954 by Gene Baker at second base and the pair became the first African American double-play team in baseball.  Banks’ first breakout season came in 1955 when he hit 44 homers, drove in 117 runs and batted .295.  Banks appeared in the first of his 14 All Star games that season and he set two records during that ’55 season, one for all-time home run leader as a shortstop, and the second for his five single-season grand slams, a record that stood for thirty years.

Banks won back-to-back National League MVP awards in the 1958 and 1959 seasons, becoming the first player to ever accomplish the feat.  In 1961, Banks moved to first base after experiencing problems with his knees resulting from an old Army injury.  In 1967, the Cubs named Banks a player-coach for the season.  Despite his aging body, Banks still hit 23 homers and drove in 95 runs that season, appearing in

yet another All Star game.   Banks received the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award recognizing playing ability and personal character in 1968 and made his final All Star game in 1969, a season which saw the Cubs come very close to winning a pennant before blowing an 8 ½ game lead on the NL East in August.  Banks officially retired from playing on December 1, 1971, but continued to coach for the Cubs’ organization until 1973 as a minor league instructor and holding a position in the front office.



Robert Gonzalez

Cleveland Indians Correspondent