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Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs legend, dead at 83 years old

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Ernie Banks, the face of the Chicago Cubs for decades and the ever-lovable “Mr. Cub” has died at age 83, according to multiple media reports.

It’s hard to even put the events of tonight into words.

After losing Ron Santo, a longtime Cubs third baseman and radio broadcaster, back in 2010 – Banks was one of the most universally-recognized franchise icons still with us. Just one week shy of his 84th birthday, the Hall of Fame shortstop passed away – leaving us all in utter shock and disbelief.

To say he bled Cubbie blue would be an unforgivable understatement. This man rose and fell with the successes and failures of the organization – never seeing the team reach the World Series after joining the organization, let alone win one.

And, maybe it’s just me, but that’s the saddest part of it all.

Banks has been such an integral part of the Chicago Cubs franchise for so long and it seems wrong – similarly to how I personally felt when Santo passed – that when the day comes (hopefully sooner rather than later) and the Commissioner’s Trophy is hoisted at Wrigley Field, with the city of Chicago in the throes of an ecstatic celebration; he won’t be there.

He may not be there in person, but there is no doubt that in spirit, Banks will forever be a part of the Friendly Confines. His famous catch phrase, “Let’s play two,” became a rallying cry for Cubs fans everywhere – and his childlike grin was something to behold.

During his playing career, Banks emerged as one of the best talents in Major League Baseball after breaking out as a star in the Negro League. In his first full season, which came in 1954, the infielder appeared in all 154 contests, batting .326/.427/.753 with 19 home runs and 79 RBI, en route to a second-place finish in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

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After breaking the color barrier within the Cubs organization, Banks went on to become the face of the franchise, finishing in the top ten of the National League MVP voting on five separate occasions, including his back-to-back MVP awards in 1958 and 1959, combining to hit 92 home runs and drive in 272 runs in 309 games between the two seasons.

His entire 19-year playing career was spent with the Cubs, and his dominance is evident when you look at the organization’s all-time leaderboards. Banks ranks third all-time in terms of single-season WAR (10.2), fourth in career WAR (67.5), eighth in career slugging percentage (.500), first in plate appearances (10,394) and games (2,528).

That’s not to mention his 2,583 career base hits, which ranks second in franchise history behind Cap Anson, or his 512 home runs, which trails only Sammy Sosa in Cubs history. His 1,636 career RBI rank second all-time, as well, trailing again only Anson – and his 1,009 extra-base hits also top the Chicago leaderboard.

I could go on for hours and hours – telling you all of his accolades on the field. I could remind you that Banks ranks 22nd all-time on the career home run list or that he recently received the highest honor a U.S. civilian can get – the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

But no matter what I say, it wouldn’t do Mr. Cub justice.

Here’s to you, Ernie Banks. There are no words, but I speak for Cubs fans everywhere when I say that, come Opening Night, I’ll hoist up a cold one and toast – “Let’s play two.”

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