Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks passes away at age 83


For those of us that eat, sleep, and breathe our American Pastime, there is no better imagery than a sunny day spent out on the ball field, with beads of sweat making their way out from underneath the bill of your cap. It’s the blue sky, with the one white fluffy cloud off in the distance. It’s the chance to feel infinite–like you might be able to play two.

As of last evening, one of the greatest to ever play the game of baseball passed away. Ernie Banks, affectionately known as “Mr. Cub,” was 83 years old. But more important than anything he accomplished on the baseball field, or any catchy slogan he became synonymous for (“Let’s play two!”), what Banks did after his career was just as important.

A Korean War veteran, the first African-American to play for the Chicago Cubs, one of the finest gentlemen this sport has ever seen, and maybe least importantly in the scheme of things, a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer.

Coming along just years after Jackie Robinson, Banks took full advantage of the path that was paved for him. To further show how meaningless the Rookie of the Year Award can be, he finished second in 1954 to a fellow by the name of Wally Moon. Who’s he? Exactly. (Wally Moon actually had quite the career. Unfortunately, in comparison to Ernie Banks, there is no contest.)

That would be the least of Banks’ worries over his 19 years spent in the game. He’d go on to win back-to-back MVP awards in 1958 and 1959, despite the Cubs finishing below .500 in each of those seasons. From 1955-1962, he was an All-Star every year. During that span, he averaged 39 home runs and 110 RBIs in a season. He even messed around and grabbed his only career Gold Glove in 1960.

At the conclusion of his prime, many forget that Banks made quite the career out of being a first baseman. First making the switch full-time in 1962, he would never again appear at shortstop past his age-31 season.

While his last two seasons (at ages 39 and 40) were forgettable, he exalted every last bit of effort the two seasons prior to those. At 37, he belted 32 home runs. The following year, he drove in over 100 runs for the eighth time in his career.

Just how bad did Mr. Cub beat up on the Redlegs back in his day? Not as bad as you’d think, actually. While his 203 career RBI against Cincinnati is third-most against any club he’s ever faced, his total OPS+ (which I’m quite positive Mr. Banks would laugh at us for using) of 90 was tied for his lowest against any club in which he faced at least 300 times.

He would start, and appear in, only one contest at Riverfront Stadium. The remainder of his time in the Queen City took place at Crosley Field, where he rapped out 27 home runs and 91 RBIs in 156 games, which oddly enough puts him below his season averages. Despite that, those 27 long balls are good for third-most in an opponent’s park, behind just Connie Mack Stadium (39) in Philadelphia, and Busch Stadium (30) in St. Louis.

Name a stat and the odds are that Banks performs exceptionally well in it. His résumé alone made him a slam dunk candidate for Cooperstown, but the fact that he was beloved by so many makes you wonder who could have not voted for him.

Rest in peace to “Mr. Cub,” Ernie Banks. When the Cubs finally do get a ring, he’ll be peering down smiling, ready to play two.