Baseball fans were saddened to hear that Chicago Cubs legend, Ernie “Mr. Cub” Banks, had suddenly passed away at the age of 83 last Friday on January 23rd. His former teammates, Don Kessinger, Billy Williams and Lou Brock along with other Cub legends like Sammy Sosa poured in their condolences over this past week. The shortstop/first baseman was laid to rest yesterday in the city of Chicago. Mr. Cub would not want us to sulk on his passing. Instead, he would want us to celebrate the precious years that he had on this earth. Today, I would like to reflect on his life, pro career and the everlasting influence that he has had on baseball.
Before Ernie began his Hall of Fame MLB career, he excelled as a multi-sport athlete in football, basketball and swimming. Growing up, Ernie was not an avid fan of baseball. Being that Ernie was such a gifted athlete, his father urged him to give baseball a try. Ernie’s baseball career took off in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1950 where he became a standout African-American ballplayer. He was drafted to the U.S. Army shortly after his Negro League debut. Ernie was discharged in 1953 and signed a deal with the Chicago Cubs, playing in 10 games that year. He elevated to a superstar in 1955 when he made his first NL All-Star appearance and clobbered 44 home runs to go along with 117 RBIs. His career only got better from that season on, winning 2 NL MVP awards, 2 NL Home Run titles, one Gold Glove award and a total of 14 All-Star game selections. The accolades don’t stop there, he is also a member of the 500-home run club, he has amassed over 2,500 career hits and he is the Cubs’ franchise leader in games played at 2,528. Now you know why they call him Mr. Cub.
Ernie was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 and in 1999, he was chosen as a member of the MLB All-Century Team. There’s no doubt that Ernie Banks was one of the greatest players in baseball history. Ernie’s legacy however extends beyond his pro career. He served as an ambassador for the Cubs following his retirement in 1971. Ernie made many charitable donations over the course of his life, he would always visit the Cubs during their Spring Training and he occasionally returned to his stomping grounds, Wrigley Field. Ernie’s level of optimism is also something that players and fans respect him for. His gratitude was recognized in 2013 when President Barack Obama honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom award. This award highlighted the cultural impact that he had on baseball as being a positive, inspirational role model. Ernie earned one of his nicknames, “Mr. Sunshine”, because of his positivity. He had never played in a postseason game, but that never crushed his enthusiastic spirit and it didn’t stop him from giving it all he had.
Ernie Banks’ legacy both on and off the field is something that will live on many, many generations. On the field, he played the game the way it’s supposed to be played. He played with determination, passion, and most of all, fun. When his playing days were over, his undying passion for the game kept him around and put him in a position to be one of the MLB’s representatives. As the Cubs prepare for the 2015 season, Mr. Cub will be smiling down on them saying his memorable catchphrase, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame! Let’s play two!”