Ernie Banks remembered for enthusiasm, sincerity
Mr. Cub. Need anyone say more?
Ernie Banks, the greatest and most popular Cubs player in history, died Friday. He would have been 84 on Jan. 31.
Banks did not attend last weekend's Cubs convention, and reports said he was taken to Northwestern Hospital on Friday.
A native of Dallas, Banks broke the color line with the Cubs in 1953 and starred as a shortstop and first baseman, hitting 512 home runs and gaining admission to the Hall of Fame in 1977.
But what endeared Banks to Cubs fans worldwide was his perpetually sunny disposition. "Let's play two" was his catch phrase, and it's inscribed on the Banks statue that has stood outside Wrigley Field the last several years. His famed No. 14, retired by the Cubs in 1982, flies from one of the flag poles at Wrigley Field. Banks was voted to Major League Baseball's All-Century Team and honored on the field at the All-Star Game in Fenway Park in 1999.
"Words cannot express how important Ernie Banks will always be to the Chicago Cubs, the city of Chicago and Major League Baseball," Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. "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.
"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."
In 2,528 major-league games, all with the Cubs, Banks batted .274 with 512 home runs and 1,636 RBI. He was the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1958 and 1959. He led the NL in home runs (41) in 1960. Banks was a 14-time NL all-star. Playing on more losing teams than winning teams during his career, Banks never appeared in the postseason, coming tantalizingly close in 1969, when a beloved Cubs team collapsed down the stretch and watched the New York Mets overtake them to win the National League East.
Banks was a rare player who never played in the minor leagues. He went from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues to the Cubs, appearing in 10 games in 1953 and all 154 in both 1954 and 1955.
He hit 43 home runs in 1957 before blasting 47 and 45, respectively, in his MVP seasons of '58 and '59.
A smooth-fielding shortstop, Banks shifted to first base in 1961, playing first full time in 1962.
Banks hit his 500th career home run on May 12, 1970, connecting off the Braves' Pat Jarvis at Wrigley Field. Longtime Cubs fans still relish the call of longtime TV play-by-play man Jack Brickhouse: "On your feet. This is it."
During the 1960s, Banks batted fifth in a potent heart of the order that had Billy Williams batting third and Ron Santo hitting fourth.
As great as he was, Banks also was modest. During the 2013 season, he said current Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro would be better than him. Banks was at Wrigley that day to talk about receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"Is this a great country or what?" he said then of the honor. "It's amazing. It means everything to me. It just means life is just wonderful. When you do things to try to help people and share things, it really comes back to you. I just tried to work hard and love the players and love Wrigley Field, love all the players.
"This award means a lot to me. It really does. It's almost like the Nobel Peace Prize, to me."