Nickname: Ernie, Mr. Cub
Teams: Kansas City Monarchs (1950-1953), military service (1951-1952), major leagues (1953-1971)
Height: 6' 1'' Weight: 180
Born: January 31, 1931, Dallas, Texas
An all-around athlete, he starred in football, basketball, and track in high school and at age seventeen signed to play semipro baseball with a barnstorming black team for $15 a game. "Cool Papa" Bell saw him and signed him for the Kansas City Monarchs. Playing shortstop for the Monarchs under manager Buck O'Neil, he hit .255 in 1950 but, after two years in the Army, improved to .347 in 1953.
Late in the season he was discovered by the Chicago Cubs, signed to a contract, and sent directly to the major leagues, the first black player in the franchise's long history. He hit .314 with the Cubs in only ten games, but the following season, as the regular shortstop, he hit .275 while stroking 19 homers. His power kicked into high gear in 1955 when he nailed 44 homers while batting .295. His best major league seasons came in 1957 60, when he hit more than 40 homers each season (winning two home run titles and two RBI titles) and hitting for averages of .285, .313, .304, and .271. The middle two years (1958-1959) he was voted back to back National League MVP awards.
He also played in eleven All Star games and picked up a Golden Glove award in 1960. In the early 1960s, while beginning to slow in the field, Banks moved to first base for the remainder of his career. The right-handed slugger, who became known as "Mr. Cub," spent his entire nineteen-year major league career with the franchise, and ended with a .274 batting average and 512 home runs. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, in his first year of eligibility.
Baseball Career Highlights:
In 1948, at the age of 17, Banks began his baseball career with a barnstorming team. He was inspired by Jackie Robinson. Banks said, "Jackie Robinson impacted my life tremendously. So much so that I wanted to be like Jackie."
Banks was sported by major league scouts while playing for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1950. After spending two years in the U.S. Army, the Monarchs sold Banks' contract to the Chicago Cubs for $10,000. When he joined the Chicago Cubs, he became the franchise's first black player. Like Dan Bankhead, Willard Brown, Larry Doby, Satchel Paige and Hank Thompson, Banks went from the Negro Leagues to the majors without playing minor league ball.
From the start of his Cubs' career, Banks excelled. After batting .275 with 19 home runs in 1954, he set a shortstop record by hitting 44 home runs in 1955. He surpassed that with a league leading 47 home runs in 1958, while leading the league with 129 RBI and a .614 slugging percentage that same year.
Banks was named the National League's most valuable player in 1958 and 1959, when he batted.304 with 45 home runs and 143 RBI. As a premier shortstop, he led the league in fielding percentage three times in eight seasons, including a record .985 in 1959. In 1960, his 41 home runs earned him a second home run title. An 11-time All Star, he was fond of saying, "It's a great day for baseball. Let's play two today."
Awards, Honors, Titles, Championships,
• National League "Most Valuable Player" - 1958, 1959
• Led National League in Home Runs - 1958, 1960
• Led National League in RBIs - 1958, 1959
• All Star - 1955-1962, 1965, 1967, 1969
• Golden Glove Award - 1960
• National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee - 1977
NLBM Legacy 2000 Players' Reunion Alumni Book, Kansas City Missouri: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc., 2000.
James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.