Shortstop / First baseman
Born: (1931-01-31) January 31, 1931 (age 82), Dallas, Texas
September 17, 1953 for the Chicago Cubs
Last MLB appearance
September 26, 1971 for the Chicago Cubs
Runs batted in
Chicago Cubs (1953-1971),
Career highlights and awards
14× All-Star (1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1959², 1960, 1960², 1961², 1962, 1962², 1965, 1967, 1969),
2× NL MVP (1958, 1959),
2x NL home run champion (1958, 1960),
2x NL RBI champion (1958, 1959),
Gold Glove Award (1960),
Lou Gehrig Memorial Award (1967),
Chicago Cubs #14 retired,
Major League Baseball All-Century Team,
Member of the National
Baseball Hall of Fame
83.8% (first ballot)
Ernest "Ernie" Banks (born January 31, 1931), nicknamed "Mr. Cub" and "Mr. Sunshine", is a retired American professional baseball player. He was a Major League Baseball (MLB) shortstop and first baseman for 19 seasons on the National League's (NL) Chicago Cubs team, from 1953 through 1971. Banks was a National League All-Star for 11 seasons, playing in 14 All-Star games. His best seasons came in 1958 and 1959, when he won back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards and led the league in home runs (HR) in 1958 and runs batted in (RBI) in both seasons. He would lead the NL again in home runs in 1960.
Banks was named a player-coach in his last years with the Cubs and he joined the regular coaching staff after his retirement as a player. During and after his tenure with the Cubs, Banks was active in the Chicago community. He founded a charitable organization, became the first black Ford Motor Company dealer in the United States and made an unsuccessful bid for local political office. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 and was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999. He was announced as a Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree in 2013. Banks lives in the Los Angeles area.
1 Early life,
2 MLB career
2.1 Early career,
2.2 Move to first base,
2.3 Final seasons,
3 Personal life,
4 Later years and honors,
5 See also,
7 External links,
Banks was born in Dallas, Texas to Eddie and Essie Banks on January 31, 1931. His father had worked in construction and had played baseball for black semipro teams in Texas. As a child, Ernie Banks was not very interested in baseball, preferring swimming, basketball and football. His father bought him a baseball glove for less than three dollars at the local five and dime store. He bribed Banks with nickels and dimes to play catch. Ernie's mother encouraged him to follow one of his grandfathers into a career as a minister.
Banks graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1950. He did not play high school baseball, but was a letterman and standout in football, basketball, soccer and track. History professor Timothy Gilfoyle writes that Banks was discovered by Bill Blair, a family friend who scouted for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League, while Banks was playing softball. Other sources report that he was noticed by Cool Papa Bell of the Monarchs while playing for a black barnstorming team.
He debuted with the Monarchs in 1950. While serving in the United States Army at Fort Bliss in 1951, Banks played for a short time with the Harlem Globetrotters. He returned to the Monarchs in 1953, hitting for a .347 batting average. Banks later said, "Playing for the Kansas City Monarchs was like my school, my learning, my world. It was my whole life." In fact, when he was sold to the Chicago Cubs, Banks was initially reluctant to leave his Monarchs teammates.
When Banks broke into the major leagues in late 1953 and played ten games as a shortstop for Chicago, he became one of a handful of former Negro league players who joined MLB teams without playing in the minor leagues. Banks was the first black player on the Cubs. On his approach to race in baseball, authors Larry Moffi and Jonathan Kronstadt later wrote that Banks "just was not the crusading type. He was so grateful to be playing baseball for a living, he did not have time to change the world, and if that meant some people called him an Uncle Tom, well, so be it. Banks was not about changing anyone's mind about the color of his skin; he was about baseball, pure and simple."
In his first major league season, Banks received a visit from Jackie Robinson that influenced his quiet presence in the game. Robinson told Banks, "Ernie, I'm glad to see you're up here so now just listen and learn." "For years, I didn't talk and learned a lot about people," Banks said. Banks says that when he felt like becoming more vocal over time, he discussed the issue with teammate Billy Williams, who advised him not to be vocal. Williams drew the analogy of fish that get caught once they open their mouths. "I kept my mouth shut but tried to make a difference. My whole life, I've just wanted to make people better," Banks said.
Early on, Banks' double play partner was Gene Baker, the second black player on the Cubs. Banks and Baker roomed together on road trips and became the first all-black double-play combination in major league history. When Steve Bilko played first base, Cubs announcer Bert Wilson referred to the Banks-Baker-Bilko double play combination as "Bingo to Bango to Bilko". Banks hit 19 HR and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1954. Banks became an early participant in a trend toward much lighter baseball bats that season. The change began accidentally, when Banks inadvertently picked up a teammate's bat and liked how easy it was to generate bat speed.
In 1955, Banks hit .295, slugged 44 HR and made the first of 14 All-Star Game appearances. His HR total was a single-season record among shortstops. He also set the record for grand slams in a single season with five, a record that stood for over thirty years. Banks finished third in the league's Most Valuable Player (MVP) voting. The 1955 Cubs finished with a 72-81 win-loss record, playing well at Wrigley Field, but winning only 29 of 77 road games.
Banks did not hit below .285 in the next four seasons. He won the NL MVP Award twice, in 1958 and 1959; he led the NL in home runs in 1958 and RBI in both of those seasons. He became the first shortstop in the history of the National League to win the MVP award in back-to-back seasons. In 1959, the Cubs came the closest to a winning season since Banks' arrival, finishing with a 74-80 record. Writing for the Associated Press, Joe Reichler reported on the eve of the 1960 World Series that the Milwaukee Braves were prepared to part with pitchers Joey Jay, Carlton Willey and Don Nottebart, outfielder Billy Bruton, shortstop Johnny Logan, first baseman Frank Torre and cash to pry Banks from the Cubs.
Move to first base:
In 1961, a knee injury from his Army days became problematic. After playing in 717 consecutive games, Banks pulled himself from the Cubs lineup for at least four games, ending his pursuit of the NL consecutive games played streak (895 games) set by Stan Musial. Banks moved from shortstop to first base in 1962 and played in two All-Star Games that year. In May of that season, he was taken off the field unconscious and suffering from a concussion after being hit in the head by a fastball from Moe Drabowsky. Banks sustained the injury on a Friday, was in the hospital for two nights, sat out a Monday game and hit three home runs and a double on Tuesday.
After being selected to an NL All-Star team for the eighth consecutive year in 1962, he struggled the next two years. In May 1963, Banks set a single-game record for putouts by a first baseman (22). However, he caught the mumps that season and finished with only a .227 batting average. Despite his struggles, the 1963 Cubs earned their first winning record since the 1940s. On doctor's orders, Banks skipped his usual offseason participation in handball and basketball. He entered the 1964 season weighing 192 pounds, about seven pounds more than the previous year. The team's second baseman, Ken Hubbs, had been killed in a plane crash in February 1964. Banks hit .264 in 1964. The Cubs finished eighth in the NL, losing more than $315,000 that year.
Banks returned to the All-Star Game in 1965 and he hit his 400th home run on September 2 of that year. Leo Durocher was hired as the team's manager before the 1966 season. The 1965 Cubs had finished with a baseball operations deficit of $1.2 million, though this was largely offset by television and radio revenue as well as the rental of Wrigley Field to the Chicago Bears football team. The Cubs hoped that Durocher could inspire renewed interest in the Chicago fan base. The team had used a rotating system of head coaches, known as the College of Coaches, from 1961 to 1965. The 1966 team finished with a 59-103 win-loss record, the worst season of Durocher's career.
From the time that Durocher arrived in Chicago, he became frustrated at his inability to trade or bench the aging Banks. In Durocher's autobiography, the manager recalled that "he was a great player in his time. Unfortunately, his time wasn't my time. Even more unfortunately, there was not a thing I could do about it. He couldn't run, he couldn't field; toward the end, he couldn't even hit. There are some players who instinctively do the right thing on the base paths. Ernie had an unfailing instinct for doing the wrong thing. But I had to play him. Had to play the man or there would have been a revolution in the street." Banks, on the other hand, said of Durocher, "I wish there had been someone around like him early in my career... He's made me go for that little extra needed to win." Durocher served as Cubs manager until midway through 1972, the season after Banks retired.
Before the 1967 baseball season, the Cubs named Banks a player-coach. Early that season, Banks was having to compete with John Boccabella for a starting position at first base. Shortly thereafter, Durocher named Banks the outright starter. Banks went to the All-Star Game and drove in 95 runs that year. He won the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in 1968, an honor recognizing playing ability and personal character. That year, the 37-year-old hit only .246, but he slugged 32 HR and 83 RBI.
Banks came the closest to winning a division pennant in 1969. That year, the Cubs lost the division lead despite holding an 8 ⁄2 game lead in August. Banks made his final All-Star Game appearance that year. On May 12, 1970 at Chicago's Wrigley Field, he hit his 500th home run. On December 1, 1971, Banks retired as a player but continued to coach for the team until 1973. He was an instructor in the minor leagues for the next three seasons and also worked in the Cubs front office.
Banks finished his career with 512 HR, and his 277 HR as a shortstop were a career record at the time of his retirement. (Cal Ripken, Jr now holds the record for most homers as a shortstop with 345.) Banks holds Cubs records for games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), extra-base hits (1,009), and total bases (4,706). Banks excelled as an infielder as well. He won a Gold Glove Award in 1960, led the NL in putouts five times and held the highest NL fielding percentage at his position four times.
Banks was known for his catchphrase of, "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame... Let's play two!", expressing his wish to play a doubleheader every day out of his pure love for the game of baseball, especially in the "friendly confines" (another of his catchphrases) of Wrigley Field. During Banks' career, the Cubs were rarely in contention. They failed to finish in the first division every season until late in his career. Banks holds the major league record for most games played without a postseason appearance (2,528). He was a constant promoter of the Cubs and of daytime play at Wrigley Field. His popularity and positive attitude led to the nicknames "Mr. Cub" and "Mr. Sunshine".
Banks ran for a position as alderman in Chicago in 1962. He lost the election. Banks later said, "People knew me only as a baseball player. They didn't think I qualified as a government official and no matter what I did I couldn't change my image... What I learned, was that it was going to be hard for me to disengage myself from my baseball life and I would have to compensate for it after my playing days were over."
In 1967, Banks and Bob Nelson became the first black owners of a Ford Motor Company dealership in the United States. Nelson had been the first non-white commissioned officer in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II; he operated an import car dealership before the venture with Banks. Banks was appointed to the board of directors of the Chicago Transit Authority in 1969.
Banks married his first wife Mollye in 1953 and she filed for divorce in 1959. She filed suit against him in 1963 for failing to make payments on a life insurance policy as agreed upon in their divorce agreement. He was divorced from his second wife, Eloyce, in 1981. She received several valuable items from his playing career as part of their divorce settlement, including his 500th home run ball. She sold the items not long after the divorce. In 1984, he married a woman named Marjorie. Banks married Liz Ellzey in 1997 and Hank Aaron served as his best man. In late 2008, Banks and Ellzey adopted an infant daughter.
Later years and honors:
Banks was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame his first year of eligibility, on August 8, 1977. During his induction speech, Banks said, "We've got the setting - sunshine, fresh air, the team behind us. So let's play two!" The Cubs retired his uniform number 14 in 1982. When the 1984 Cubs won the National League East pennant, the club named Banks an honorary team member. The 1990 Major League Baseball All-Star Game was dedicated to Banks. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch to starting catcher Mike Scioscia. He was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999.
In June 2006, Crain's Chicago Business reported that Banks was part of a group looking into buying the Chicago Cubs, in case the Tribune Company decided to sell the club. Banks established a charity, the Live Above & Beyond Foundation which assists youth and the elderly with self-esteem, healthcare and other opportunities. In 2008, Banks released a charity wine called Ernie Banks 512 Chardonnay; all of its proceeds are donated to his foundation. Banks is an ordained minister and he presided at the wedding of MLB pitcher Sean Marshall.
On March 31, 2008, a statue of Banks ("Mr. Cub") was unveiled outside Wrigley Field. That same year, Eddie Vedder released the song "All The Way"; Banks had asked Vedder to write a song about the Cubs as a birthday gift. On August 8, 2013, he was announced as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license