Ernie Banks is a legend in Chicago. He has not stepped onto the field since 1971, but he is still immensely popular. A person does no receive the nickname of Mr. Cub unless he is truly deserving of such an honor. Ernie Banks was such a man.
Ernie Banks build a Hall of Fame career during his 19 seasons playing in the Friendly Confines. He hit 512 career home runs with 1,636 RBI, has a career .274 batting average, .330 On-Base Percentage (OBP), .500 Slugging Percentage (SLG), and a .986 Fielding Percentage (.994 at fist base). Bank won back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player Awards in 1958 and 1959. He played in 14 All Star Games. Twice he led the National League in home runs (1958 and 1960) and RBI (1958 and 1959). In 1960, Banks won the National League Gold Glove at shortstop. In 1977, Banks was elected on the first ballot into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Cubs gave Ernie Banks the honor of being the first Cubs player to have his number retired in team history in 1982. He was also selected as a member of the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Not bad for a man which at one point in his life had to be paid to play catch with his dad.
Unquestionably 1958 and 1959 were the best seasons of Banks’s career. Entering his fifth full season, Banks found his stride. In 1958, Banks played 154 games, hit 47 home runs with 129 RBI, 23 doubles, 11 triples, scored 119 runs, walked 52 times against 87 strikeouts, hit .313, .366 OBP, .614 SLG, .980 OPS, was elected to the All Star Game, posted a WAR of 9.4 (oWAR of 8.6 and dWAR 1.9). Banks won the National League Most Valuable Player Award by 98 votes over Willie Mays. In 1959, Banks followed up his terrific 1958 season with a season, which may have been even better. He played 155 games, hit 45 home runs with 143 RBI, with 25 doubles, 6 triples, and scored 97 runs. Banks increased his walk total to 64 and reduced his strikeout total to 72. He hit .304, .374 OBP, .596 SLG, .970 OPS, and was elected to the All Star Game. Banks committed only 12 errors in 802 chances for a .985 Fielding Percentage at shortstop. Banks posted a WAR of 10.2 (oWAR of 7.8 and dWAR of 3.5). He won the National League Most Valuable Player Award by 43 votes over Eddie Mathews. Banks was a dominating force on Cubs teams that went 72-82 and 74-80 during his MVP seasons respectively.
Ernie Banks was more than a baseball player. Mr. Sunshine played on only six teams that finished above .500 during his 19-season career. The first winning team was in 1963, Banks’ 11th season, when the Cubs went 82-80. Only the 1969 Cubs won more than 90 games during Banks’ career. That is a lot of losing to go through and still maintain one’s joy and passion for the game.
Ernie Banks loved life and love people. He was a military veteran, serving in the army during the Korean War. He was loyal to people. After the Cubs bought Banks he was hesitant to report until he was essentially ordered by Buck O’Neil to go to Chicago. Leaving his teammates with the Kansas City Monarchs was incredibly difficult for Banks. He went to the Cubs and joined the team as its first African-American player. Banks chose to let his play talk for him instead of his words. He earned the respect and admiration of people, whether or not they were connected to the Cubs.
“an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Ernie Banks was Mr. Cub. Ernie Banks was Mr. Sunshine. Ernie Banks was and forever will be a role model for how we all should live our lives. He loved his job and the people he worked with. In spite of the personal and professional struggles he faced, Ernie Banks never let these difficult challenges deprive him of his joy and passion for the game of baseball, and most importantly, life. Everyone who saw the joy with which you lived your life will miss you. Thank you Ernie Banks.