Celebrating Black History in Baseball: Ernie Banks
On the eve of Black History Month and on the day of his birth, we are looking back on the outstanding career of Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks. Mr. Cub is not only the first black player in franchise history, Ernie is almost universally seen as the greatest player in the history of the Chicago Cubs.
Ernie Banks originally played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues, the same franchise as legends like Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, and Buck O’Neil. He signed with the team in 1950 and played with Kansas City until signing with the Cubs in 1953. He played the first half of his career as a shortstop before moving to first base, compiling outstanding offensive totals during his tenure in the MLB.
Over the course of his career, Ernie hit 512 home runs, and finished with a slugging percentage of an even .500. He had nine seasons with more than 100 RBI, and made the All-Star team 14 times. His most impressive accomplishment may be that he was the first shortstop in the history of baseball to win the Most Valuable Player award in two consecutive seasons, as he took home the trophy in 1958 and 1959 despite the Cubs not being very competitive during those seasons.
Upon retirement, Banks finished as the Cubs second all-time in RBI, hits, and doubles after franchise legend Cap Anson, which is still true more than forty years later. Banks is still the all-time leader in games played, at-bats, extra base hits, and total bases. If you throw out confirmed cheater Sammy Sosa‘s home run totals, Banks is also still the Cubs leader in that category. Ernie Banks was the first Cubs player to have his number retired by the organization, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1977.
Beyond pure excellence as a player, Banks’ excellence in terms of demeanor and general personality has earned him the nicknames “Mr. Cub” and “Mr. Sunshine,” as he is the most beloved face among all Cubs alumni. During his retirement, Banks founded the charity the Live Above & Beyond Foundation, which focuses on eliminating discrimination. Despite his age, Ernie Banks is still a frequent guest at Wrigley Field and Cubs fans are lucky to have him. He is an important part of not just the history of African-Americans, but of baseball, and the American sporting world as a whole.