Banks played his entire career with the Chicago Cubs, a perennial crowd favorite who was active in the Chicago community during and after his tenure with the Cubs. He founded the Live Above & Beyond Foundation to eliminate prejudice, support programs that enhance neighborhoods and relieve discrimination among various age groups and races. The organization provides, among other benefits, educational scholarships, health care, and sports equipment for the underprivileged.
He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 and, in 2013, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to sports. One of the last members of the Negro Baseball Leagues to sign with the majors before integration finally destroyed the institution, Banks went, in 1953, from the Kansas City Monarchs to the Cubs.
Widely hailed as one of the greatest to ever play the game, Ernie Banks was a Gold Glove shortstop-turned-first-baseman for 19 seasons until 1971, briefly playing left field as well. A rarity, he spent his entire MLB career with the Chicago Cubs.
He was an 11-time National League All-Star playing in 14 All-Star Games. He slugged 512 home runs, had 1,636 runs batted in, 2,583 hits, and a career batting average of .274.
He won consecutive Most Valuable Player awards in 1958 and 1959. From 1967 through 1971, he was a player coach and, the following year, retiring as player, joined the team’s coaching staff. In 1977 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The first African American to play for the Cubs, he received a visit from Jackie Robinson. During his first game Robinson told Banks, “Ernie, I’m glad to see you’re up here. So, now, just listen and learn.” Banks is quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying, “For years, I didn’t talk and learned a lot about people.”
Over time, when Banks felt like being vocal, he discussed the issue with Black teammate and future Hall of Fame member Billy Williams, who advised him to remain quiet. Williams drew the analogy of fish that get caught once they open their mouths. “I kept my mouth shut but tried to make a difference. My whole life, I’ve just wanted to make people better.”
Ernie Banks died of a heart attack at a Chicago hospital on January 23, shortly before his 84th birthday.
— By MSR Contributing Writer Dwight Hobbes