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.