Ernest “Ernie” Banks (1931-2015) remains, without a doubt, the most beloved Chicago Cubs in franchise history and was voted the “Greatest Cub Ever” in a 1969 Chicago Tribune fan poll. Not only was he one of the best Cub the team had ever seen, but he is considered one of the greatest Major League Baseball players in history. As a boy, Ernie had little interest in baseball but rather affection for football, basketball and track instead. With his father moonlighting as a semi-pro baseball player, he often bribed the young Banks with nickels and dimes to play catch to nudge him toward his sport of choice. Ernie’s Booker T, Washington High School lacked a baseball team so he played football and basketball while also playing fast pitch softball outside of high school and then the Amarillo Colts, a semiprofessional baseball team. He began playing with the Negro Leagues Kansas City Monarchs before being drafted into the United States Army serving two years, but playing part time with the Harlem Globetrotters during his service. Upon his discharge in 1953, Ernie returned to the Kansas City Monarchs for a brief stint before the Chicago Cubs came calling. He is one of only a handful of Negro League player to enter the big leagues without starting out in the minors and he, in fact, never played a single minor league game in his career. In 1954, he put together an exceptional season with 19 home runs, 79 RBI and a .275 batting average but was edged out of the National League Rookie of the Year voting by St. Louis Cardinals Wally Moon.
Undeterred, Ernie returned the next year to wallop 44 home runs to set the record for most home runs by a shortstop, while batting .295 to earn his first of 14 NL All-Star selections. By the late-1950s, Ernie banks was considered one of the best shortstops in the game and in 1958 and 1959 he was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player, leading the NL in at-bats (617), home runs (47), RBI (129), slugging percentage (.614) and total bases (379). He also led the NL in RBI in 1959 with 143. He became the first National League player to earn back-to-back MVP awards. In 1960, he became the first Chicago Cubs player to win a Gold Glove after posting 488 assists and only 18 errors while turning 94 double plays. In 1962, however, the now 31-year old banks lacked the range at short so he was moved to first base where he remained for the rest of his career. That season, he proceeded to lead all first basemen in putouts (1,448), assists (106), double plays turned (134) and finished third in fielding percentage (.993) and fifth in errors committed (11). On May 12, 1970, Ernie clocked his 500th home run in front of his home crowd at Wrigley Field and “Mr. Cub” retired a year later. Despite never playing a single playoff game in his 19-year career, Banks was also known as "Mr. Sunshine", due to his upbeat demeanor and pure love for the game.
Ernie Banks finished his career with 2,583 hits, 1,305 runs scored, 512 home runs, 1,636 RBI and a .274 batting average in 2,528 games. He will forever be remembered at Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field with his retired #14 flag waving on the outfield foul pole and a statue erected outside the ballpark. He was named the 1967 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award winner as the Major League Baseball player who best exhibits the character and integrity of Lou Gehrig, both on and off the field and in 1977, “Ernest “Ernie” Banks was elected on the first ballot to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.