Chicago Cubs: A year without Ernie Banks
On this day a year ago, the Chicago Cubs and the game of baseball lost one of their greats in Ernie Banks. A year later, fans still remember “Mr. Cub” and his famous “let’s play two”.
There aren’t many that embodied what it meant to play for the Chicago Cubs more than the late Ernie Banks. Things have changed a lot since Banks’ playing day, but he really was a fan of the game, excited to have the opportunity to go out and play the game every day. His famous “let’s play two” wasn’t for show, but was from the heart. The man wanted to play as much baseball as he possibly could while he had the chance.
Unfortunately, the embodiment of playing for the Cubs during that era also meant being part of the lovable losers that the Cubs had become. A 14-time All-Star, Banks never participated in a postseason game. Being in the playoffs meant more in those days. No Wild Card teams. Just two divisions. Banks desperately wanted that chance, but he would never get it.
Banks played on only six teams that posted winning records but still managed to win back-to-back MVP Awards after playing for dismal Cubs teams in both seasons. Before PED’s, corked bats, tighter wound baseballs and whatever other reason you can find for the ball to leave the park–Banks used his tall thin frame to create one of the smoothest swings in the game.
From 1955 to 1960, Banks led the majors in home runs with 240 home runs, including three straight years of 40+ from ’58 to ’60. In that span he won his two MVP’s, beating out names like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and out-homered each of those two in that five-year span.
But it wasn’t just his achievements on the field that made Cubs’ fans love Ernie. He truly was Mr. Cub. He would stop and talk baseball with any fan who would give him the time. Even after so many losing seasons, he never demanded a trade or bad mouthed his team. Banks was as solid a character that as you could find in the game.
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His No. 14 was the first to be retired by the Cubs and hangs from the left field foul pole. There have been many great ballplayers to wear the blue pinstripes of the Cubs. Not many have had their number retired, but Banks by far deserved to be the first.