Saturday, January 24, 2015

RIP Ernie Banks

Ernie Banks was part of the vanguard of young African-American baseball players who revolutionized Major League Baseball in the 1950's after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 followed by several Negro League veterans.  The "new wave" started with Willie Mays in 1951 and was quickly followed by Hank Aaron and Banks followed later by players like Frank Robinson, Bob Gibson, Willie Stargell, Joe Morgan, Maury Wills and Lou Brock.  Players who dominated baseball headlines of the 1950's and 1960's and into the 1970's.  The National League embraced African American players first and the AL was amazingly slow to follow which led to two nearly two decades of dominance for the NL as the league that played the superior, more exciting brand of baseball.

Ernie Banks was unique in that he was really the first power hitting shortstop in baseball.  He broke in with the Cubs as their first African-American player in 1953 and quickly established himself as one of the most valuable players in baseball routinely hitting 40+ HR's per season while playing a premium defensive position.  Advanced defensive metrics were not recorded back then, but according to Fangraphs, he regularly put up WAR's ranging from 7-10 during his peak seasons in the mid-1950's.  Banks moved over to first base in 1963.  I did not become aware of baseball until I was 10 years old in 1966.  I always thought of Banks as a first baseman.  By that time, the first base position was dominated by Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda, so I was not as impressed by Banks as I probably should have been.  As I got older and started reading more about the history of baseball, I was surprised to learn that Banks had been a shortstop and thinking to myself how special that must have been to see.

In addition to his on-field performance, Ernie Banks had an irrepressible, optimistic personality that influenced those around him in a positive way.  There were no dog days for Ernie Banks.  He would come to the ballpark, look around and say "let's play two!"  It became his signature slogan, as recognizable as Yogi Berra's "it ain't over, 'til it's over!"  One thing I did not know about Ernie Banks before I started reading his obituaries was that he ran for city council in Chicago in 1963 while still very much a star player for the Cubs.  His campaign slogan was "City Hall needs a slugger!"  He lost the election, but that did not stop him from loving the Cubs and the City of Chicago.  He would remain an ambassador for the Cubs, Chicago and Major League Baseball to the day he died.  Banks was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, 6 years after he retired.  In 2013, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Somewhere in the Universe, if only in our mind's eye, it is a clear, sunny day, 70 degrees, and Ernie Banks is looking out on a Field of Dreams with green grass stretching as far as the eye can see saying "let's play two!"  RIP Ernie Banks.


  1. How a guy like Ernie Banks didn't get 100% of the vote for the HOF is beyond me. RIP

    Billy Baseball

  2. this vid of ernie made me laugh and cry

    what african americans had to endure during jim crow was evil

    also, because of a knee injury sustained while in the army, ernie played most of his career in pain...and it was the deterioration of his knee that caused him to move to first

    baseball lost one of its best on friday

    so did the world at large


  3. Doc, great obit for Mr. Cub! Learned more about Ernie Banks - great loss indeed.

    Thanks for sharing Bacci! Completely agree with your sentiments.

    Billy, I cannot believe that he wasn't a unanimous vote to the HoF. To me, more incredulous is that he lost the City Council election!