Chicago Cubs: Ernie Banks made his debut 66 years ago

(Photo by Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images for BMW)
(Photo by Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images for BMW) /

Ernie Banks made his big league debut with the Chicago Cubs on September 17, 1953. We look back on that day on its 66th anniversary.

It was on September 17, 1953, that Ernie Banks, known as Mr. Cub and perhaps the greatest player in Chicago Cubs history, made his major league debut with the team. He also became the first African-American player to suit up for the North Siders.

Though Banks had a decorated career, his debut came under rather unceremonious circumstances. It was late in the season, and the Cubs were well out of the pennant race. Just 2,793 were in attendance at Wrigley Field, as the Philadelphia Phillies pounded the Cubs, 16-4.

Banks batted seventh and went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored, and he also committed an error at shortstop. The Chicago Tribune made but a brief mention of Banks the next day, calling his debut “unimpressive.”

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However, as we know, his career would quickly take off after that. In just ten games in 1953, Banks would go 11-for-35 (a .314 average) with two home runs. For the next two years, he would play in all 154 Cubs games.

In 1954, he would finish second in Rookie of the Year voting, while in 1955 he would finish third in MVP voting as he posted a .295 average with 44 home runs and 117 RBIs. His elite play continued for several years; from 1957 to 1960, he hit over 40 home runs and drove in over 100 every year. He also batted over .300 in 1958 and 1959, winning the MVP both years.

This was all even though Banks played on some bad teams; indeed, it would be ten years into his career before he played on a winning club (82-80 with the 1963 Cubs). Though he was no longer an elite player in the mid-to-late 1960s, he was able to keep his career going by moving to first base and was a big part of that famed 1969 Cubs team.

Banks retired in 1971 with 512 home runs and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977. He remains one of the Cubs’ most beloved players, both for his on-the-field accomplishments and for his positive, upbeat attitude; indeed, many have called him Mr. Sunshine. No matter how bad the teams he was on, he remained positive about the Cubs. Unfortunately, Banks died in 2015 and didn’t quite live long enough to see the Cubs win it all the next year.

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Though Ernie Banks has left us, his legacy continues to live on. On the anniversary of his debut, it’s a great time to reflect on his tremendous and remarkable Chicago Cubs career.

(I retrieved the September 18, 1953, Chicago Tribune article by Edward Prell on the game from the database on September 15, 2019.)