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Banks, Ernie

Ernie Banks


American baseball player

Hall of Famer Ernie Banks was the greatest and most popular player in the history of the Chicago Cubs, a man so closely associated with the franchise both during and after his playing days that he was known as Mr. Cub. Over the course of 19 seasons, he played 2528 games in which he got 2583 hits, 512 home runs, and 1636 runs batted in. He turned in such an awesome performance in 1958 (.313, 47 home runs, and 129 RBI) and 1959 (.304, 45 home runs, and 143 RBI) that he was named the National League's Most Valuable Player both years. Banks was the shining star of a team that was mediocre for most of his career, and his one great regret was that he never played in the World Series. Nonetheless losing never dampened his optimism which was so legendary that when he was elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post called

him "the only man in baseball history better known for his good spirits than for his achievements."

Childhood in Texas

Ernest Banks, born in Dallas, Texas in 1931, was his family's first son and second born child. Ernie was an introverted, good hearted child, devoted to helping around the house, and attending church and Sunday School, and for a time his mother thought he would follow in his grandfather's footsteps and become a minister. Growing up, he participated in a number of sports. He was a talented basketball player, averaging 20 points per game in high school, and a high jumper who could clear nearly six feet. In summers and fall, when he wasn't working in the cotton fields near Dallas for $1.75 a day, he played pick-up softball. Banks' father played for the Dallas Green Monarchs and the Black Giants, two teams in the Negro Leagues that existed while major league ball was still segregated. Ernie served as batboy on his father's teams, but he did not play baseball himself until well he was into his teens.

In 1947 William Blair, a black newspaper publisher and ex-Negro League pitcher, saw a softball game in which the sixteen-year-old Banks slugged a long homer off an established pitcher named Brannon. "Brannon was the fastest pitcher I had ever seen," Blair recalled to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch 's Barry Horn. "I never saw anyone who could throw like him. I never saw anyone get the solid licks off him. And here was this willowy kid walloping ball after ball off him. Ernest, I could tell right away, was going to be something special." With Blair's help, Banks joined a black baseball team from Amarillo that barnstormed from New Mexico up to Nebraska. He played that one summer at shortstop and learned rapidly. "You had to show Ernest everything one time, and he learned it," Blair told Horn.

Enters Negro Leagues

That summer, when Amarillo played the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the premier teams in black baseball, Banks caught the eye of Monarchs's manager James 'Cool Papa' Bell . Bell brought Banks onto the Monarchs after he graduated from high school in 1950. At the end of the season, he barnstormed on a team with Jackie Robinson , who said he thought Banks could make it in the majors. Although Robinson had integrated baseball two years earlier, the thought of playing with a big league ball club had never entered Banks' mind. He spent the 1951 and 1952 seasons in the U.S. Army. When he returned to the Monarchs in 1953 the Negro Leagues were on their last legs. Most of their best players had jumped to the majors. An ankle injury led Banks to give up baseball in the middle of the 1953 season, but days later Monarchs manager Buck O'Neil persuaded him to finish the season with the team. Banks did not know it, but the Chicago Cubs-and several other teams-had told the Monarchs they were interested in his services. After a game in Chicago, O'Neil took Banks to Wrigley Field, the Cubs' ballpark. There Cubs general manager Wid Matthews informed Banks he would be joining the team. The Cubs had bought Banks' contract from the Monarchs for $10,000.

Banks played 10 games with the Cubs at the end of the 1953 season, hitting .314 and getting 2 home runs. Another black player, Gene Baker, had joined the Cubs before Banks. But Banks got into a game first and became the first African-American to play for the team. Even with his sunny disposition, it was not easy for Banks as the first black on a team in the early 1950s. "For awhile, it was like I was there, but I wasn't there," Banks revealed to the Post-Dispatch. "I was there to play and do what I had to do on the field. We talked and laughed on the train rides and we played together, but we lived apart. When games were over, me and Gene headed home to the [black] south side of the city and the other players all went north."

"Mr. Cub"

Banks made the team as the Cubs' starting shortstop in 1954 and stayed with the team until he retired in 1971. For most of those 19 years he was among the most potent offensive threats in baseball. From 1955 to 1960 he was the most prolific home run hitter in the game, hitting more than either Hank Aaron, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle hit during the same period. During that six year period he averaged more than 115 runs batted in and over 41 homers a year. In the 1958 and 1959 seasons he went on such a tear that he was named the National League's Most Valuable Player both years. It was achievement enough winning two MVPs in a row. Doubly impressive was the fact that, while MVPs are usually selected from pennant winning clubs, the Cubs finished fifth both years.

Banks was also a durable player. Beginning his first day with the Cubs he played 424 games straight, a record for a player just breaking into baseball. After a minor injury he played another 717 without an interruption. In the 1960s, Banks-already in his 30s-slowed down a bit. Still he continued to hit between 20 and 30 homers a year with good RBI production. In 1961 after a failed experiment in left field, Banks was shifted from shortstop to first base where he remained until his retirement.


1931 Born in Dallas, Texas
1946 Joins black barnstorming team in Amarillo, Texas
1950 Signs with Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League
1951-52 Serves in U.S. Army
1953 Signs with Chicago Cubs for $2,000 bonus
1955-60 Hits more home runs than any other major leaguer
1958-59 Named National League's MVP in two consecutive years
1962 Switches from shortstop to first base
1969 Cubs lose pennant after leading NL for most of the season
1970 Gets 500th home run and 1600th RBI on same day
1971 Retires as an active player after 19 seasons with Cubs
1977 Elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame

Awards and Accomplishments

1955-62, 1965, 1967, 1969 National League All-Star team
1958-59 National League Most Valuable Player; Sporting News Player of the Year
1958, 60 National League Home Run leader
1960 Rawlings Gold Glove shortstop
1967 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award
1977 Inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame

Banks had impressive numbers, but unfortunately for most of his career he was the Cubs only impressive player. In the 1950s and for the first half of the 1960s, the club lived in the National League's second division. To the club's perennially bad record, Banks owes another of his claims to fame: He holds the record for the most games played with a single team, 2528, without ever playing in the World Series. The closest Banks came to post-season play was the infamous 1969 season. It was the best Cubs team in years, featuring stars such as Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins, Ron Santo and Glenn Hundley. However after leading the league the entire season, the Cubs collapsed completely in September and were overtaken by the New York Mets who went on to win the World Series. At 38 years old, Banks had played in nearly every game that season, and second-guessers speculated after the fact that if manager Leo Durocher had rested Banks more over the course of 1969, he could have helped the team more in the closing weeks. For years Banks deeply rued having never played in a Series, telling USA Today 's Greg Boeck in 1990 that "It's a hole in my life."

Positive Attitude

Despite his years with also-ran Cubs teams, Ernie Banks became famous for his infectiously positive attitude toward baseball and life. It was typified by the slogan "Let's play two" that has been associated with him since July 1969. "It was about 105 degrees in Chicago," Banks told the Houston Chrinicle 's Richard Dean. "And that's a time when everybody gets tired. I came into the clubhouse and everybody was sitting around and I said, 'Beautiful day. Let's play two.' And everybody looked at me like I was crazy. There were a couple of writers around and they wrote that and it stayed with me." Banks parlayed his optimism into a part-time profession after he retired as a player, giving motivational talks at companies around the country.

In 1970, a year before Banks hung up his spikes, he entered two elite baseball clubs on the same day. On May 12 at Chicago's Wrigley Field he hit his 500th home run; it also happened to be his 1600th run batted in. After his retirement, he coached with the Cubs and worked with their minor league hitters. He worked in insurance and banking for much of the 1980s and 1990s. Banks was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the first year of his eligibility, an indicator not only of his formidable statistical legacy but also of his enduring popularity with the media and the public.

Although he hasn't set foot in a major league batter's box in more than 30 years, "Mr. Cub" Ernie Banks continues to be among the most beloved sports celebrities in the country. His popularity has but little to do with the fact is among the all-time leaders in with 2,528 games, 9,421 atbats, 4,706 total bases, 1,009 extra-base hits and 512 home runs. It rests instead with the heartfelt smile that never seems to leave his face and his openness to friend and stranger alike. His Hall of Fame status seems to extend into the realm of living itself. Banks summed up his philosophy for Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times: "My theme is, 'The spirit of friendship is the balance of life.' Not money. Not the World Series. It's friendship. The relationships I have with people, that's enough to keep me happy."


Address: Ernie Banks International, Inc., 520 Washington Blvd., Suite 284, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292-5442. Online:


(With Enright, Jim) Mr. Cub. Chicago: Follett Publishing Company, 1971.

Career Statistics

CHI: Chicago Cubs.
1953 CHI .314 10 35 3 11 2 6 4 5 0 1
1954 CHI .275 154 593 70 163 19 79 40 50 6 34
1955 CHI .295 154 596 98 176 44 117 45 72 9 22
1956 CHI .297 139 538 82 160 28 85 52 62 6 25
1957 CHI .285 156 594 113 169 43 102 70 85 8 14
1958 CHI .313 154 617 119 193 47 129 52 87 4 32
1959 CHI .304 155 589 97 179 45 143 64 72 2 12
1960 CHI .271 156 597 94 162 41 117 71 69 1 18
1961 CHI .278 138 511 75 142 29 80 54 75 1 21
1962 CHI .269 154 610 87 164 37 104 30 71 5 11
1963 CHI .227 130 432 41 98 18 65 39 73 0 9
1964 CHI .264 157 591 67 156 23 95 35 84 1 10
1965 CHI .265 163 612 79 162 28 106 55 64 3 15
1966 CHI .272 141 511 52 139 15 75 29 59 0 10
1967 CHI .276 151 573 68 158 23 95 27 93 2 10
1968 CHI .246 150 552 71 136 32 83 27 67 2 6
1969 CHI .253 155 565 60 143 23 106 42 101 0 4
1970 CHI .252 72 222 25 56 12 44 20 33 0 4
1971 CHI .193 39 83 4 16 3 6 6 14 0 0
TOTAL .274 2528 9421 1305 2583 512 1636 763 1236 50 261

"Take it From Mr. Cub - Time is Right." Chicago Sun-Times. October 4, 1989.



Allen, Maury. Baseball's 100. New York: A&W Library, 1981.

Dewey, Donald, and Nicholas Acocella. The Biographical History of Baseball. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1995.

Enright, Jim. Baseball's Great Teams: The Chicago Cubs. New York: Macmillan, 1975.


Berkow, Ira. "'Cubs Family' Minus Banks." New York Times, June 14, 1983.

Boeck, Greg. "For Banks, Lack of Postseason Play 'a Hole in My Llife'." USA Today, October 16, 1990.

Bonk, Thomas. "Mr. Cub Not Feeling His Years at 61." Chicago Sun-Times, February 9, 1992.

Boswell, Thomas. "Banks, 5 Others Join Hall." Washington Post, August 9, 1977.

Dean, Richard. "Still Mr. Cub." Houston Chronicle June 22, 1997.

Horn, Barry. "At 66, Banks Recalls Texas Roots." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 5, 1997.

Potash, Mark. "Mr. Cub's Latest Slogan: Great To Be Alive at 65." Chicago Sun-Times, March 8, 1996.

Stone, Larry. "Cubs Legend Taps Memory Bank." Seattle Times, June 9, 2002.

Weir, Tom. "Friendly Confines Beckon 'Mr. Cub'." USA TODAY. July 9, 1990.

Zwecker, Bill. "Ernie Banks Takes a Look at His Past," Chicago Sun-Times. October 23, 1994.

Sketch by Mike Pare

Where Is He Now?

Ernie Banks divides his time between homes in Chicago and Los Angeles, making regular visits as well to Dallas to visit family. Besides being in great demand for personal appearances at baseball card shows and other events, he devotes his time to his company, Ernie Banks International, and Ernie Banks Live Above And Beyond Foundation, which provides scholarships and other assistance to disadvantaged youth. Reflecting on the fact that he never played in a World Series, Banks told the Chicago Sun-Times when he set up the foundation "My long-range mission is to be the first athlete to win the Nobel Prize."

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Banks, Ernie 1931–

Ernie Banks 1931

Baseball shortstop

Played Other Sports in School

First Black Player for Cubs

Among Top Sluggers in History


The first African-American player to take the field for professional baseballs Chicago Cubs, Ernie Banks amassed a legendary record as a player over 19 seasons with the team. He hit a franchise record 512 home runs, was twice chosen the National Leagues Most Valuable Player, and played in 13 All-Star games. Yet as important as his exploits on the field was Bankss status as a positivethinking and reliably comic icon of the long-suffering Cubs team. By the time Banks retired in 1971 he was known as Mr. Cub, and in 1977 he was named to baseballs Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Ernest Banks was born in Dallas, Texas, on January 31, 1931, the second child and first boy of 12 children. He never prowled, helped with the chores, went to Sunday School and church, and was a blessing to us all, his mother, Essie, was quoted as saying in the Washington Post. Bankss legendary outgoing personalityhe often invites autograph seekers to join him at his table in restaurantsdid not develop until adulthood. I came from a family of 12 Banks told the Chicago Sun-Times. I did not have self-esteem. I know that sometimes all it takes is one person to say something or do something that just sets it off.

Played Other Sports in School

Bankss father was a pitcher and catcher with the Dallas Green Monarchs and the Black Giants, two teams of the all-black Negro League circuit that flourished before the major leagues were integrated in 1947, and he often brought his son along to serve as a batboy. Nevertheless, though naturally athletic, he rarely played baseball as a youngster. Attending Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas he notched a basketball average of 20 points per game and excelled as a track star (he could clear five feet, eleven inches in the high jump). Baseball wasnt a school sport at the time, and Banks knew little of the world beyond Dallas except for the cotton farms where he worked the fields for $1.75 a day. It was a small universe, he told the Dallas Morning News. I was never exposed to anything outside of my neighborhood.

But playing softball one day in 1947, Banks was spotted hitting home runs nearly at will by a local baseball scout and newspaper publisher, Bill Blair, who had once pitched for the Negro Leagues Indianapolis Clowns. That led to a room-and-board gig with a small all-black club called the Amarillo Colts, playing around

At a Glance

Born Ernest Banks in Dallas, TX, January 31, 1931; Divorced;children: Eddie B. Education: Graduated from Booker T. Washington High School, Dallas, 1950; attended Northwestern University. Military service: U.S. Army, 1951-53.

Career: Professional baseball player. Played for Kansas City Monarchs, Negro Leagues, 1950, 1953; signed to Chicago Cubs, 1953; became first black player on the field for Cubs, September, 1953; played for Cubs, 1953-71; retired in 1971 with 512 home runs, 1,636 RBIs; worked for Cubs as coach, consultant, and spokesman after retirement; became spokesman and consultant, New World Van Lines, 1984; founder and president, Ernie Banks International, a sports marketing firm.

Selected awards: Named Most Valuable Player, National League, 1958 and 1959; member of National League All-Star Team 13 times between 1957 and 1970; inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame, 1977.

Addresses: Office Ernie Banks International, Inc., 520 Washington Blvd., Suite 284, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292-5442.

Texas and the Southwest. Banks, who was still in high school, played only in the summer. Though he was new to baseball, his skills developed rapidly. You had to show Ernest everything one time, and he learned it, Blair told the St. Louis Post- Dispatch. The talent was all natural.

Soon Banks moved up to the Kansas City Monarchs, a top-level team that had featured the talents of major-league pioneer Jackie Robinson and quotable pitcher Satchel Paige. After graduating from high school, Banks joined the Monarchs in 1950. It was a new beginning in my life, Banks told the Post-Dispatch. I was really traveling. I was meeting people from all over. I was seeing other cities. My eyes were opened. At that point, however, he joined the U.S. Army for two years, and when he returned to baseball the Negro Leagues were in a tailspinin the wake of Robinsons breaking of the color barrier in previously all-white major- league baseball, many of the top black stars had been signed to major-league teams.

First Black Player for Cubs

Discouraged by his prospects, Banks briefly returned to Dallas. But he was persuaded to return to the Monarchs by manager Buck ONeil, who had gotten wind of interest the major-league Chicago Cubs had expressed in his talented young player. Banks, who received a signing bonus of $2,000, joined the Cubs on September 17, 1953; though another black player, Gene Baker, had signed a contract a few days earlier, Banks was the first black player seen on the bases at the Cubs Wrigley Field. His top salary with the Cubs was $65,000 a year.

With the number of black major-league players growing, Banks encountered little outright discrimination, but he recalled that white Cubs players mixed little with him and Baker at the start. Nevertheless, Banks soon became an indispensable part of the Cubs lineup at his starting position of shortstop. Rarely missing a game between 1954 and 1969, he started strong in 1954, his first full season, with a .275 batting average and 19 home runs. Thereafter he improved consistently, slamming 44 home runs in 1955. Banks hit more home runs than any other player between 1955 and 1960, including such better-known sluggers as Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

The high point of Bankss career came in the 1958 and 1959 seasons, in which he hit 47 and 45 home runs respectively, batting over .300 in both seasons. He was named the National Leagues Most Valuable Player for both years. After that Bankss pace slackened somewhat, but he remained a consistent player through the 1960s with batting averages in the .260 and .270 range and between 20 and 40 home runs in most seasons. His trademark phrase, Lets play two, was first uttered on a torrid 100-degree day in 1969 when Banks attempted to lighten the mood of his depressed teammates. By that time Banks had become beloved by Cubs fans for his sportsmanship and unfailingly pleasant outlook. A Chicago alderman once suggested replacing a large Picasso sculpture that stands in the citys downtown with one of Banks instead.

Among Top Sluggers in History

On May 12, 1970 Banks joined a select group in baseball when, with one and the same swing, he hit his 500th home run and notched his 1, 600th run batted in. By the time he retired the following year due to the effects of arthritis, he had 512 home runs, good for 12th place at the time on the list of all-time top home-run sluggers. His lifetime batting average was .274, and he also ranked among the top 15 in RBIs. When Banks became eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, he was chosen for the honor in his first yeara feat only eight other players had achieved at the time. Banks in retirement might serve as a model for other players, as he has carved out goals and interests of his own independent from the world of baseball. For a time he worked as a Cubs coach and served in the teams front office, but, he told People, I felt trapped. No one looked at me as a human being. I couldnt get on with my life. With the help of a psychologist, Banks decided that he wanted to become more than a cigar store wooden Indian.

He continues to be associated with the Cubs as an occasional goodwill ambassador, but in the 1990s organized and headed a sports marketing firm of his own, Ernie Banks International. Banks has also established the Ernie Banks Live Above and Beyond Foundation, a nonprofit group that assists children and senior citizens in building self-esteem. He is the author, with Jim Enright, of an autobiography, Mr. Cub.



Chicago Sun-Times, February 9, 1992, p. 20; March 8, 1996, p.116.

Jet, September 13, 1993, p. 48.

New York Times, September 28, 1984, p. A29.

People, April 11, 1983, p. 67.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 5, 1997, p. F7.

USA Today, July 9, 1990, p. E4.

Washington Post, January 20, 1977, p. C4.

James M. Manheim

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