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Hall Of Famer Ernie Banks, 'Mr. Cub,' Dies At 83

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jan 24, 2015 5:30AM

Photo credit: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File

Baseball fans on the North and South Sides of Chicago are in mourning tonight with the news that Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, the greatest player to ever don blue pinstripes at Clark and Addison, has died. Mr. Banks was 83.

Born in Dallas Jan. 31, 1931, Mr. Banks' baseball career began in 1950 with the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs. After a two-year stint in the Army, he returned to the Monarchs before he became the first black player in Cubs history on Sept. 17, 1953. As a shortstop, he showed promise in his first full season in the majors before breaking through in 1955, when he hit .295 with 44 home runs and 117 RBI. Mr. Banks' best seasons were in 1958 and 1959, when he averaged 46 home runs and 136 RBI, and won back-to-back National League MVP awards. Mr. Banks' eternal optimism, demeanor and his love for playing the game of baseball—the phrase "let's play two," referring to playing a doubleheader—earned him the nickname "Mr. Cub."

A recurring knee injury forced Mr. Banks to move to left field for a brief spell in 1961 before he eventually moved to first base, where he played the rest of his career. Mr. Banks hit his 500th career home run May 12, 1970.

He would finish his 19-year career with the Cubs having played 2,528 games with a .274 average, 512 home runs, 1,636 RBI, an 11-time All-Star... and never made the postseason. Banks 2,528 games played are the major league record for games played by a player without a postseason appearance.

Mr. Banks was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, his first year of eligibility. In his acceptance speech he famously said, "We've got the setting - sunshine, fresh air, the team behind us. So let's play two!"

After his playing career, Mr. Banks became the Cubs' main ambassador and remained the face of the franchise, and always greeted fans with that same infectious smile and enthusiasm. In 2013, Mr. Banks took the stage at a Pearl Jam concert that was delayed for over two hours due to rain.

Mr. Banks was married three times. He had twin sons and a daughter with his first wife Eloyce, and adopted a daughter in 2008 with his third wife, Liz.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts released the following statement:

“Words cannot express how important Ernie Banks will always be to the Chicago Cubs, the city of Chicago and Major League Baseball. He was one of the greatest players of all time. He was a pioneer in the major leagues. And 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. My family and I grieve the loss of such a great and good-hearted man, but we look forward to celebrating Ernie’s life in the days ahead.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel remembered Mr. Banks as "more than a baseball player."

"He was one of Chicago's greatest ambassadors. He loved this city as much as he loved -- and lived for -- the game of baseball," Emanuel said.