Hall of Fame infielder Ernie Banks, who was affectionately dubbed “Mr Cub” by the Wrigley Field faithful, passed away Friday. He was 83.
Banks, the Cubs’ first-ever black player, played shortstop and first base, and was a 14-time all-star who played for Chicago from 1953-1971.
He was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1958 and 1959 and he blasted 512 homers in 19 seasons of Major League Baseball before being elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977.
US President Barack Obama and first Lady Michelle sent their condolences to Banks’s family, and to “every Chicagoan and baseball fan who loved him.”
“He became known as much for his 512 home runs and back-to-back National League MVPs as for his cheer, his optimism, and his love of the game,” Obama, a former Illinois senator, said in a statement.
“He was beloved by baseball fans everywhere, including Michelle, who, when she was a girl, used to sit with her dad and watch him play on TV.”
Tall and thin, Banks didn’t have the stature of a typical baseball player, but his accomplishments were many. Banks hit 47 home runs with 129 RBI in 1958 and followed up the next year with 45 homers and 143 RBI.
Of Banks’s 512 career home runs, 277 came at shortstop. That still stands as the most in the National League for a shortstop. He hit .274 and drove in 1,636 runs.
– Major milestones –
Banks broke down a lot of major league barriers. He became the first African American to manage a major league team on May 8, 1973 when he took over for the ejected Whitey Lockman.
He was also the first player in Cubs’ history to have his number retired in 1982 and was voted to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team in 1999. He was the first Cub to be honored with a statue outside Wrigley Field in 2008.
Friends remembered his bright personality and the indelible mark he left on baseball and the city he played for.
“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,” Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said.
“He was a pioneer in the major leagues. And more importantly, he was the warmest and most sincere person I’ve ever known.”
Ricketts said while the world had lost a “great” man, his life and achievements would be remembered fondly.
“Approachable, ever optimistic and kind-hearted, Ernie Banks is and always will be Mr Cub. My family and I grieve the loss of such a great and good-hearted man, but we look forward to celebrating Ernie’s life in the days ahead.”
Banks’s love of baseball was legendary. His two favorite catchphrases were, “It’s a great day for baseball” and also “Let’s play two” — for his desire to play a doubleheader each day.
He remains the Cubs’ leader in games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), plate appearances (10,395) and extra-base hits (1,009).
Banks was also active in the Chicago community during and after his time with the Cubs.
In 2013, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to American citizens.
When he received the prize, Banks handed Obama a bat that belonged to groundbreaking baseball star Jackie Robinson.
“Jackie was the first black to play major league baseball, and here we got Barack, first black president. The president held the bat in his hands,” Banks told Sports Illustrated last year.
“That was a thrill.”
The marquee at Wrigley Field paid tribute to Banks Saturday, with his name and “Mr Cub” lit up outside the storied stadium.