CHICAGO (WGN) — Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks -- who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 -- has died at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “Mr. Cub” was 83 years old.
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts released the following statement Friday night:
“Words cannot express how important Ernie Banks will always be to the Chicago Cubs, the city of Chicago and Major League Baseball. He was one of the greatest players of all time. He was a pioneer in the major leagues. And and more importantly, he was the warmest and most sincere person I’ve ever known. Approachable, ever optimistic and kind hearted, Ernie Banks is and always will be Mr. Cub. My family and I grieve the loss of such a great and good-hearted man, but we look forward to celebrating Ernie’s life in the days ahead.”
Banks began his professional baseball career at 19 when he signed a contract with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. After two years in the army, Banks’ contract was sold by the Monarchs to the Cubs for $10,000.
Banks was the first African-American to play in a Cubs game, playing a handful of contests in 1953. Starting in 1954, he rarely left the Cubs lineup for 18 years. Banks rose to stardom in 1955 with a 44 home run season. He won the National League MVP in 1958 and 1959.
Despite Banks’ success, the Cubs continued to lose–until 1969. The Cubs became a contender that summer, only to collapse late in the season and miss out on the playoffs. Banks continued to put up numbers, hitting his 500th home run in 1970.
Banks retired following the 1971 season with 512 career home runs. He continued to serve as a Cubs coach, instructor and administrator. Banks was bestowed with the Presidental Medal of Honor at the White House in 2013. His number was the first retired by the Cubs and in 2008 the team unveiled a statue of Banks off the corner of Clark and Addison.