“Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks (1953-1973)
To the victors go the spoils-and most of the MVP Awards. Yet, once in baseball history, the shortstop of a club tied for fifth was named MVP two straight years (1958-59). In 1958, Ernie Banks played in every game, leading the league in RBIs (129), slugging percentage (.614) and home runs (47, setting a big-league record for shortstops). A year later, Banks led the league again with 143 RBIs. He hit 20 or more homers in thirteen seasons, hit .300 or better three times, and drove in 100 or more runs eight times. He led the league’s shortstops in fielding three times and, after moving to first base in 1962, led all first basemen in putouts five times.
Banks never played minor league ball, jumping directly from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League to the Chicago Cubs. He hit .314 in 10 games in 1953. He took over as the Cubs’ starting shortstop the following year, and had his first great season in 1955, knocking in 117 runs and hitting 44 homers, a record for shortstops; five of them came with the bases loaded, at the time a major-league record.
By 1957 he was one of the most feared power hitters in the league. The late umpire Tom Gorman once recalled that, “in 1957 Banks was knocked down four times by four different pitchers-Don Drysdale, Bob Purkey, Bob Friend, and Jack Sanford. And each time he was knocked down, Banks hit their next pitch out of the park.”
He led the league in RBIs in 1959 and homers again in 1960 (41). Only Eddie Mathews’ 46th homer in a 1959 playoff game kept Banks, who had 45, from a share of three consecutive home run titles. He wound up his career with 512 home runs, ranking him 13th all-time. Prior to his retirement in 1971, he was voted the Greatest Cub Player of All Time.
Cubs fans affectionately refer to Banks as “Mr. Cub,” for his years of dedicated service to their team. Banks is the Cubs’ all-time leader in games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), home runs (512), total bases (4,706) and extra-base hits (1,009); ranks second in hits (2,583) and RBIs (1,636); third in years (19) and doubles (407); fifth in runs (1,305) and singles (1,574); and seventh in triples (90) and walks (763).
Six years after retiring from the major leagues as a lifelong Cub in 1971, Banks was elected into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He was inducted at Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1977. Mr. Cub coached for the Cubs until 1973, served as a minor-league instructor from 1974-76 and also worked in the club’s front office. His uniform No. 14 was the first retired by the Cubs organization and currently flies on game days from the leftfield foul pole.
Cub fans will always remember him as the ballplayer who said, “What a great day for baseball. Let’s play two!”.