Monday, February 18, 2019

Ernest “Ernie” Banks, the first Negro Chicago Cubs player. Known as "Mr. Cub" the Cubs honored Banks by retiring his number '14' in 1982.

Ernest "Ernie" Banks was the first Negro baseball player for the Chicago (Illinois) Cubs and the first Black manager in Major League Baseball (MLB). Banks earned the nicknames "Mr. Cub" and "Mr. Sunshine" while playing shortstop and first base from 1953 to 1971 for the team.

When I write about historical topics, I follow this methodology regarding race terms:
  • "Negro" was the term used until the mid-1960s.
  • "Black" started being used in the mid-1960s.
  • "African-American" followed and began usage in the late 1980s.
Ernest Banks was born on January 31, 1931 in Dallas, Texas. Ernie's father bribed him to play baseball at a young age, but in high school he was a standout in basketball, football and track. When Banks was 17, he signed a contract with the Amarillo Colts, an all-Negro barnstorming (exhibition) team for $15 per game, and then in 1950 he signed with the Kansas City (Missouri) Monarchs in the Negro American League. He spent two years serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and then returned back to the Negro leagues in 1953. 

After a season with the Kansas City Monarchs, he signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs, becoming the first Black player for the Cubs. Banks debuted in the major leagues with the Cubs on September 17, 1953, wearing the number 14.
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 Banks hit their next pitch out of the park each time he was knocked down."

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 was named MVP two straight years (1958-59).
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).
Through 19 seasons with the Cubs, Banks became one of the most decorated players in the team's history. He was voted an All-Star 14 times (1955-1962, 1965, 1967, 1969), National League MVP two times (1958, 1959), and earned 1 Gold Glove award (1960). His career statistics were a .274 batting average, 512 home runs, 2,583 hits, and 1,636 runs batted in. Banks was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 on the first ballot. He loved baseball so much that he developed a catch phrase, always saying, "Let's play two!" referring to wanting to play another baseball game.
Banks retired as a player on December 1, 1971, but was signed on as a coach for the Cubs. On May 8, 1973, Banks technically became the first Black MLB manager when Cubs' manager Whitey Lockman was ejected from the game. Banks filled in as the manager and won the game 3-2 in 12 innings.
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 worked in the club's front office.
His uniform No. 14 was the first retired by the Cubs organization in 1982 and currently flies on game days from the leftfield foul pole.
The Cubs also honored Banks by placing his statue in front of the entrance to Wrigley Field on March 31, 2008.
In 2013 President Barack Obama awarded Banks the Presidental Medal of Freedom in a White House Ceremony.
Ernie Banks died in Chicago on Janaury 23, 2015 eight days shy of his 84th brithday. He is survived by his wife and daughter.
Ernie Banks is buried at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. Ernie Bank attended the Peace Memorial Church Father and Son Banquet more than once when the church was in Chicago (it has since moved to Palos Park). My father met Ernie on those occasions (my parents were big cubs fans). There is nothing but praise for such a wonderful man and a great inspiration like Ernie. He was truly Mr. Cub!

  2. What an incredible player and manager. I was lucky to see him play in 1969.


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