Ernie Banks will always be remembered as Mr. Cub. The baseball card above represents Banks perfectly. The first time I saw him play my uncle pointed him out during battling practice and told me how great a ballplayer he was and that he always has a smile on his face. Considering he played his entire career for the Chicago Cubs having that constant smile had to be a challenge at times. Back then Banks was always mentioned as the greatest player who never got to play in the World Series. It sure wasn’t Banks fault that the Cubs didn’t make the World Series.
Banks first played in the Negro American League with the Kansas City Monarchs. He signed with the Chicago Cubs and went straight to the major leagues without any time in the minors- becoming the first African- American on the Cubs making his debut with the Cubs late in the 1953 season and would be a fixture with the Cubs until his retirement following the 1971 season.
By the 1969 season he was a first baseman but Banks started his career at shortstop. He played shortstop until being switched to first base in 1962. The 1969 would be a tragic season for the Cubs. They looked to finally be on their way to the playoffs until they collapsed at the end. Manager Leo Durocher is often blamed for the way he used the pitching staff and for his playing his players every day with little rest. This was back when the Cubs played only day games at Wrigley Field. On September 2nd the Cubs were 5 games ahead of the Mets. They could go 8-18 the rest of the season and finish 8 games behind the Mets. This was Banks last season as a regular at age 38.
If you study the Ernie Banks stat line you will see that he was an outstanding player though the 1962 season then in his early 30’s he began to slip. In many ways after 1962 his career really went downhill- and the rest of his career he was compiling statistics and no longer one of the best players in the league. He won the NL MVP Award in back to back seasons- 1958 and 1959. He was a member of the NL All-Star team every season from 1955-62. He led the NL in home runs twice and in RBI’s twice. It is impressive that Banks won those MVP Awards because he played for losing teams in both of his MVP seasons- the Cubs finished 5th in both years. In fact for most of his career Banks sadly played with losers- in only four seasons- 1967 to 1970 did the Cubs have a winning record during Banks career and the closest they got to the playoffs during his career was in 1969 when they collapsed late in the season and finished 8 games behind the Miracle Mets of ’69. Banks played in parts of 19 seasons- 4 winning seasons. It wasn’t his fault. I get annoyed in recent years when some people judge a player by the rings he has won. Teams win World Series, Super Bowls, Stanley Cups, NBA Championships not individuals. The best players can only do so much- it takes more than one. In Banks time I can’t recall anyone being critical of his not going to a World Series- everyone understood it wasn’t his fault that the Cubs couldn’t put much together until his later years.
Banks would be a member of the NL All-Star team 11 seasons. His last year as a regular was 1969. In 1970 he hit his 500th home run- this was back when it was a big big deal on May 12th 1970. His final career numbers would be 512 home runs, 1636 RBI’s with a career average of .274. After retiring Banks would be a coach for the Cubs for a couple more seasons.
Always known as Mr. Sunshine- Banks is famous for his saying it was a beautiful day to play two games- when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 he said in his induction speech- ” “We’ve got the setting – sunshine, fresh air, the team behind us. So let’s play two!” In 1999 Banks was named to the Baseball All- Century Team. No doubt the most loved Cub of all time- he died at the age of 83 in January 2015- he didn’t live long enough to see his Cubbies finally win their first World Series since 1908- when they finally did in 2016. Banks is without question the most popular and greatest player in Cubs history. #14 Mr. Cub.