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Chicagoist Weekend Theater: Ernie Banks And The Golden Age Of Chicago Television

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 24, 2015 8:00PM

Ernie Banks earned a place on the Mount Rushmore of Chicago sports with his play on the field. His baseball career paralleled the Golden Age of Chicago television, his home runs backed by Jack Brickhouse's signature "Hey! Hey!!" call and his slick fielding at shortstop (and first base later in his career) gracing television sets across Chicago.

Banks' star power led to him participating in the nationally televised Home Run Derby series, filmed in 1960 at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, which was baseball's first Wrigley Field.

Here's a Home Run Derby episode pitting Banks against New York Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. Banks wasn't a power home run hitter like Mantle. He was a finesse,line drive home run hitter like Hank Aaron, with quick wrists and a beautiful swing and follow through.

And here's Banks squaring off against Los Angeles Dodgers sluger Gil Hodges.

Banks broke the Cubs' color line as the team's first black player and his cheerful disposition helped endear him to Cubs fans even as he wasn't able to live on the North Side of Chicago for much of his playing career. (Banks lived in South Shore.) He spoke with the Visionary Project in about segregation and baseball, meeting Jackie Robinson, and offered advice to young African Americans.

Banks' legend grew in retirement as he became a regular presence at Wrigley Field, greeting fans and donning his "Mr. Cub" hat. In 2013, President Obama awarded Banks the Presidential Medal of Freedom.