photo from CNN.com
(CHICAGO) From the moment he stepped on the field for the first time in 1953 right up through last season when he would drop by the ballpark with that big smile and little-kid enthusiasm, Ernie Banks enjoyed a love affair with Wrigley Field and its fans unlike any other in baseball.
Banks died Friday in Chicago, according to Mark Bogen, who represents the Banks family. Banks’ wife, Liz, will hold a news conference at noon Sunday, the Sun-Times is reporting.
He was Mr. Cub and no other player in franchise history — or in the club’s future — will ever be adored in the same way. “There’s sunshine, fresh air, and the team’s behind us,” Banks said during his Hall of Fame induction speed in 1977. “Let’s play two!” It was Banks’ famous rallying call and it made you want to come out to Wrigley Field no matter how much the Cubs were struggling.
In a fan poll staged by the Chicago Sun-Times during that glorious and frustrating 1969 season, Banks was voted the “Greatest Cub Ever” and there has never been one argument about it since.
He would have been 84 on Saturday. The baseball world lost one of its biggest boosters. “I just remember Ernie was never in a bad mood,” former Cubs manager Dusty Baker said in 2013.
In November of that year, President Obama presented Banks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor for a civilian. Banks was beaming more than usual during a ceremony that August at Wrigley Field honoring him.
“Is this a great country or what?” Banks said before a pregame ceremony at Wrigley to celebrate his latest honor. “[The award] just means life is just wonderful, [that] when you do things and try to help people and share things, it really comes back to you. … It’s almost like the Nobel Peace Prize to me.”
Banks, a former star in the Negro Leagues, came to the Cubs after being signed by former scout Buck O’Neil. Banks became the first black player in Cubs history and made a quick impression, hitting .314 with a double, triple, two home runs and 6 RBI in 10 games during a brief stint in 1953.
The next season, the baseball world took notice. Banks started all 154 games at shortstop in 1954 and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting.
© Copyright 2015 Sun-Times Media, LLC