CHICAGO, Illinois–Ernie Banks, the two-time MVP and Hall of Famer who never lost his boundless enthusiasm for baseball despite years of playing on losing Chicago Cubs teams, died Friday. He was 83.
The Cubs announced Banks’ death, but did not provide a cause.
��Mr. Cub�� hit 512 home runs during his 19-year career, including five seasons with 40 or more. He was fond of saying, ��It’s a great day for baseball. Let’s play two!�� That remains a catchphrase at Wrigley Field to this day.
��He was one of the greatest players of all time,�� Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. ��He was a pioneer in the major leagues. 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.��
Though he was an 11-time All-Star from 1953-71, Banks never reached the playoffs, and the Cubs had a winning percentage below .500 in all but six of his seasons. Still, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977, the first year he was eligible, and selected to baseball’s All-Century team in 1999.
Banks’ infectious smile and non-stop good humor despite his team’s dismal record endeared him to Chicago fans, who voted him the best player in franchise history. One famous admirer, ��Saturday Night Live�� star Bill Murray, named his son Homer Banks Murray.
Banks’ No. 14 was the first number retired by the Cubs, and hangs from the left-field foul pole at Wrigley Field.
��I’d like to get to the last game of the World Series at Wrigley Field and hit three homers,�� he once said. ��That was what I always wanted to do.��
Banks was playing for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues when the Cubs discovered him in 1953. He made his major league debut at shortstop that year.
Tall and thin, Banks didn’t look like a typical power hitter, holding his bat high and wiggling it as he waited for pitches. But he had strong wrists and a smooth, quick stroke.
Switching to a lighter bat in 1955, his power quickly became apparent. He hit 44 homers that season, and five grand slams that established a major league record that stood for more than 30 years.
Banks’ best season came in 1958, when he hit .313 with 47 homers and 129 RBIs. Though the Cubs went 72-82 and finished sixth in the National League, Banks edged Willie Mays and Hank Aaron for his first MVP award, becoming the first to win it on a team with more losses than wins.
Banks won the MVP again in 1959, becoming the first NL player to win it in consecutive years, even though the Cubs had another dismal year. Banks hit .304 with 45 homers and a league-leading 143 RBIs.
He led the NL in homers again in 1960 with 41, his fourth straight season with 40 or more. His 248 homers from 1955-60 were the most in the majors, topping even Aaron and Mays.
Though Banks didn’t break the 40-homer barrier again after 1960, he topped the 100-RBI mark three more times, including 1969, his last full season, at the age of 38.