Born on January 31, 1931 in Dallas, TX, Ernie Banks had to be bribed with nickels and dimes by his father to play catch. He much preferred softball and was a football and track star in high school. When he was 17, he started playing baseball with a Negro barnstorming team for $15 a game. Cool Papa Bell later signed him to a contract with the Kansas City Monarchs. The Cubs discovered him there and brought the 22-year old straight to the major leagues. He was the first black player to play for the Cubs.

Banks hit his first home run for the Cubs on September 20, 1953. Although he had trouble with defense early on, he straightened himself out and went on to set defensive records at shortstop. Often compared to Hank Aaron, he did not look like a power hitter. He was slim and he held his bat high, wiggling it nervously as he awaited the pitch. One teammate described him as having "wrists right up to his armpits." In 1955 he smacked 44 homers, the most ever for a shortstop. From 1955 to 1960, Banks hit more homers than anyone in the majors, including Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Aaron. The most popular player the Cubs ever had, he was known as "Mr. Cub". He holds virtually all Cubs slugging records and finished with over 500 home runs. Many consider him to be the most successful player without a postseason appearance. When he retired in 1971, the Cubs hoisted a pinstriped pennant decorated with his number atop the left field foul pole at Wrigley Field. He was the first Cub to have his number retired.

I, for one, will always remember his number. In middle school, whenever the number 14 was mentioned, my frighteningly hairy history teacher would drop everything he was doing and carrying to screech on the top of his lungs, "Mr. Sunshine! Mr. Cub! Number 14 on your program - Errrrrrrnie...BANKS!"

The text on his plaque in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame:


Chicago N.L., 1953-1971

Hit 512 career homers with more than 40 in a season five times. Had record five grand-slams in 1955. First to be elected N.L. Most Valuable Player two successive years, 1958-59. Led league in home runs and runs batted in twice and slugging pct. once. Established records for most homers in season by shortstop (47 in 1958) and for fewest errors (12) and best fielding average (.985) by a shortstop in 1959.

I transcribed the text of the plaque from a picture found at The Virtual Baseball Hall Of Fame Gallery.

Editors note:

Ernie Banks died of a heart attack at a Chicago hospital on January 23, 2015. He was 83 years old.

Some of you may not know this, but Ernie Banks is a punk.

For those of you who don't live here in Chicago or know of the former baseball great, let me help. Ernie Banks is, quite possibly, the most beloved person in the city of Chicago. People here may revere Michael Jordan or Studs Terkel, but they are truly and madly in love with Ernie Banks. He became so synonymously identified with Chicago Cubs baseball that he is known as Mister Cub. Really. It says so on his plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

So when I say that Ernie Banks is a punk, in this town, I'm asking for a whoopin'.

I blurted out this statement at work one day, and I have never seen so many people come out of the woodwork to defend the honor of a sports figure before. There were people were immediately on my ass, accusing me of slander. "Ernie Banks is the nicest man in the world!" they said, giving me nasty looks. I said it out on the street, and I was immediately surrounded by an angry mob. "You can't say that about Mister Cub!" they cried, running at me with blunt objects at the ready. You see, I wouldn't go around saying bad things about Ernie Banks without some kind of provocation. But, you see, I have a reason to be ikred.

Ernie Banks is constantly hitting on my wife.

Without giving away too many details, Ernie Banks occasionally finds himself in the office my wife works in. You see, Ernie Banks is an entrepreneur. He has such a brilliant idea that I really wish I could share it with you, but I can't. Rest assured that, if you ever hear about this dastardly plan, you would understand why it is so brilliant. Anyway, my wife and Ernie Banks come into contact with each other from time to time, and while she's not interested in Baseball, she loves Mister Cub. Everybody does. And Ernie Banks is very nice to my wife. He's warm and friendly and fun. However, he keeps asking my wife if she's married, and then flirts with her.

Then my wife will come home and tell me all about how Ernie Banks was in the office again, and how fun and happy he is, and I can read between the lines. At any moment, she's going to leave me for that punk Ernie, and then I will curl up in bed and cry until I'm dehydrated and dead. I confronted her about it, accused her of wanting to leave me for the greatest Chicago ballplayer of all time, and she laughed. She says that she loves me and she'd never leave me, no matter how famous or talented he is, but I don't believe her. I ask her to tell Ernie that all this flirting upsets her husband, but she says that I'm being ridiculous, and she's not going to say any such thing. I understand her motives. She's waiting for the right moment to run off and become Mrs Cub.

I figured that my friends would at lest have some sympathy for me, considering my wife is falling for the ploys of that monster Ernie Banks. No. In fact, several of them told me that they would completely understand if she ran off with Mister Cub because, after all, he's a hall of fame shortstop, and I'm just some whiny slacker. I get comments like, "Did you hit 500 career home runs? Now do you see why she'd leave you for Ernie Banks?" It's true. I haven't hit 500 career home runs. I've never lead the league in RBI's. I wasn't selected the NL MVP two years in a row. I'll never be half the man Mister Cub is.

So just keep this in mind when you're reading in the Trib about how Ernie Banks married this pretty girl half his age. That girl used to be my wife. And that punk Ernie Banks stole her from me.

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