Less than a week after the Cubs Convention, one that sorely missed Ernie Banks; he has passed away at the age of 83. At this point, details are unclear…and are insignificant. I’m not going to pretend that I can properly write about this great, great man. I’m just going to share my thoughts on a player who, before my life was ever a remote possibility, shaped a huge portion of my love for the game of baseball.
Ernie Banks is legendary for his infectious smile and warm personality. His baseball career began in the Negro leagues in 1950 with the Kansas City Monarchs. His rights were sold to the Cubs in 1953, where he played 19 years, from 1953 until 1971. He was the first black player in the history of the Chicago Cubs. The second black player, Gene Baker, combined with Banks to form the first all black double play combination in MLB history. As a hitter, his 512 career home runs are second on the franchise’s all-time list, and he won back to back MVP awards in 1958 and 1959. His outstanding on field career led him to receiving 83.3% of the vote in 1977 when he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Ernie Banks’ life beyond baseball was just as incredible. He was born in Dallas, TX and was the second of 12 children. In 1951, Banks was drafted to the Army and served in Germany during the Korean War. As an active baseball player, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for alderman in 1962. More recently, Ernie Banks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, awarded for, “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Over the years, Ernie Banks never strayed too far from the Cubs, making appearances at spring training, games, and the Cubs Convention. Through his last appearance at the Convention, Ernie remained one of the most beloved and revered figures; his popularity transcending generations of fans and players past and present.
On this, the night of his passing, there are no words that can accurately or completely describe what Ernie Banks means to me, to us as Cubs fans, to the game of baseball, or to the world as a whole. Whatever words I come up with would be woefully inadequate to describe a man who I never had the honor of seeing play. Fortunately, there is reel footage of his tremendous ability and a written record of his incredible life.
Looking forward, which right now is very difficult to do, one thing is absolutely certain. Although Ernie Banks has passed away and he will never again privilege us with his presence, his spirit and love for the Cubs can never be taken away. Smiles and personalities like those had by Ernie Banks never die. They are the things in this world which are truly immortal. His statistics, his awards, his accomplishments off the field survive him; artifacts of a man whose life was lived at a level that many of us dare not to even aspire to.
For everything he was during his natural life and everything he will remain eternally to the Cubs and to the game of baseball, this is not a night where I mourn the loss of a great baseball player. Tonight is a night where I look back, reflect on how a man who was 54 years older than I am deepened my love for baseball, and celebrate being able to have learned about what he did before my life and to have experienced his presence both at the Cubs Convention and at Wrigley Field.
“It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame… Let’s play two!”
Indeed it is, Ernie. Indeed it is. Give Ronnie a hug for us. We’re gonna miss you, Mr. Cub.