Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks passed away on Friday at the age of 83, leaving behind a legacy full of enthusiasm and greatness on and off the diamond. Tom Ricketts, the Cubs chairman released a statement, saying:
“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. 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.”
President Obama even chimed in on the passing, saying:
“Michelle and I send our condolences to the family of Ernie Banks, and to every Chicagoan and baseball fan who loved him. Ernie came up through the Negro Leagues, making $7 a day. He became the first African-American to play for the Chicago Cubs, and the first number the team retired. Along the way, 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. As a Hall-of-Famer, Ernie was an incredible ambassador for baseball, and for the city of Chicago. 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. And in 2013, it was my honor to present Ernie with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Somewhere, the sun is shining, the air is fresh, his team’s behind him, and Mr. Class – “Mr. Cub” – is ready to play two.”
Banks loved to say “let’s play two today”, while becoming a great ambassador to the city of Chicago and game of baseball. He played his entire career with the Cubs, while becoming the record holder for most games played without a postseason appearance. He once said “I’d like to get to the last game of the World Series at Wrigley Field and hit three homers. That was what I always wanted to do.”
He may get there in spirit, as his No.14 will fly above the left foul pole at Wrigley Field while the new generation of potentially great Cubs’ players are molded into contenders over the next several seasons.
Banks was the first African-American player to play for the Cubs when he arrived late in 1953. He finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting in 1954 to St. Louis’ Wally Moon (though he did beat out Hank Aaron, who finished 4th that year). The next season, he made the first of his 14 All-Star appearances while hitting a then-record 44 home runs while playing shortstop. Banks would end his career with 512 home runs and two MVP awards (1958 and 1959), while playing over 1,100 games at both shortstop and first base.
Banks was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, his first year of eligibility, receiving 83.8 percent of the vote (the BBWAA was dumb then, too).
He was great on the field but people will remember him for more than his playing ability. The man who he was, the positivity, and the kindness is what people will mourn while they celebrate his life. I never met Ernie Banks, but you can get a lot out of who a person was by the words that people speak about them.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) January 24, 2015
Did a card show w Ernie Banks. He drove the promoter crazy! Spent time/talked with every person. After an hour had signed maybe 15. #MrCub
So long, Mr. Cub. The game will miss your enthusiasm. When people say “I wish more players were like (insert name)”, it was typically your name. That is a great way to be remembered as a ballplayer and a person.