Mr. Cub Ernie Banks passed away last night at age 83, meaning another timeless legend has left the earth forever. At a time when it seems like these generational talent ballplayers from our father’s youth are becoming extinct like dinosaurs, it’s important to remember that guys like Banks were more than just a guy with gaudy numbers.
So let me begin with the numbers
Banks played in parts of 19 seasons, compiling 512 career home runs and a 67.5 bWAR. When you ask someone what position Banks played, they’re going to tell you shortstop. But Banks actually played the second half of his career primarily at first base – something I didn’t realize until I took a look at his numbers thoroughly. In fact, he appeared in 1259 career games at first base compared to 1125 at short, mixing in 46 sporadic appearances in the outfield. This was an exceptionally versatile slugger whose best overall season came in 1959 when he had a WAR of 10.2, hit .304 with 45 home runs and 143 RBI. He won the MVP award in back to back years in 1958 and 1959.
More than anything – Banks signified a culture – known as “Mr. Cub” he was possibly the most beloved of a fan base who has been known as the most loyal and die-hard in the rich history of the game.
Banks played in an era of innocence, when players weren’t as selfish. They played for less, and they probably gave more of their time. His most famous quote was at it’s very core, about his love for the game and playing it:
“It was about 105 degrees in Chicago,” Banks told the Houston Chronicle’s Richard Dean. “And that’s a time when everybody gets tired. I came into the clubhouse and everybody was sitting around and I said, ‘Beautiful day. Let’s play two!’ And everybody looked at me like I was crazy. There were a couple of writers around and they wrote that and it stayed with me.”
If guys today are honest, they probably loathe double-headers at the present day. Double headers are loved by fans; they’re loved by kids who are in little league. They’re not loved by guys who are being paid to play the game who have other things to do when their five hours at the park are done. But Banks became known for this quote because it said everything about him by saying so little.
He also once said that digging for gold was more important than the gold itself. The reason he’s so heralded and beloved isn’t because of the exceptional numbers he put up – though they certainly didn’t hurt things – it’s because he was a great player who loved the game at his core and was approachable in a sincere manner. He’s a reminder of how innocent and bare bones the game used to be. When it was truly the soul of the country, a player like Banks was one of the reasons our fathers and grandfathers loved the sport.