Hall of Fame infielder Ernie Banks has passed away at age 83, as has been widely reported. “Mr. Cub” suited up for 19 campaigns in his career, never calling a park other than Wrigley Field home.
That intense identification with one of the game’s iconic teams, along with Banks’ renowned honor and affability, are what make him one of the true legends of the sport. Banks may have best encapsulated his own spirit with his famous tribute to the pure joy of playing baseball: “Let’s play two!”
Needless to say, Banks was also a supremely talented ballplayer. He started his big league career in 1953 with a cup of coffee at age 22, established himself as a fixture the following year, and did not stop until age 40. Along the way, he won two MVP awards and appeared 11 times in the All-Star game.
From 1954 through 1961, Banks manned short for the Cubbies, missing little more than a handful of games and averaging nearly seven wins above replacement annually. His peak came in 1958-59, when he hit 92 total home runs, slashed .308/.370/.605, and took home those two most valuable player nods despite playing for losing ballclubs. Though he ceded some bottom-line value when he shifted to first beginning in 1962, Banks remained one of the game’s most-feared power hitters for much of the next decade.
Banks’s statue already stands outside of Wrigley Field, depicting a simple, straightforward batting stance that does not conjur the power and grace sought after in most effigies. You have to look a bit closer to understand why this particular likeness was chosen: Banks is forever smiling.