Chicago Cubs History: Ernie Banks debuts at Wrigley Field

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /

On September 17, 1953, Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, debuted at Wrigley Field, making an error and going 0-for-3 in a 16-4 loss against the Philadelphia Phillies. Curt Simmons beat Don Elston that day.

It wasn’t a terrible Chicago Cubs team. Ralph Kiner and Hank Sauer provided ample power, and the supporting players weren’t bad at all. But beating Richie Ashburn and Del Ennis in their prime was a tall order, and Simmons was one of the best pitchers in the league that year.

Banks, the first black player on the team, was to have better days on the way to enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The one-time Harlem Globetrotter (he played for the team when he was in the Army) and Kansas City Monarch did OK for himself. He also ran for alderman in 1963, losing 84-3. When asked about that, he said “I don’t understand this political game too well. They try to strike you out before you even get a time at bat.”

In 1954, New York Giant Monte Irvin suggested that Banks switch to a 31-ounce bat (he had been using a 34-ounce bat) after Banks admired his friend’s lumber while visiting the Polo Grounds. This helped Banks unleash his power with the faster swing path and likely escalated his career.He was the ninth player in baseball history with 500 home runs, ending up with 512. Ernie Banks was born on January 31, 1931, in Dallas, Texas, and went to Booker T. Washington High School, notable for musical graduates like Norah Jones and Edie Brickell.

He never spent a day in the minors. Ernie spent the rest of the 1953, as well as the 1954 and 1955 seasons in the lineup, before taking a day off after his 424th straight game. Pretty good for a guy that was partially promoted so Gene Baker would have a roommate. He then played another 717 before he was out of the lineup again, owing to a knee he had injured originally in the Army, but had banged off a wall recently, aggravating the joint.

Chicago Cubs: A man that embodied all the best in a ballplayer

Reportedly, Banks didn’t get along very well with Leo Durocher, and even though he enjoyed playing for a better team, it wasn’t all sunshine for even such an eternal optimist as Banks.

"“I will be happy to play a part even if I am not here when we eventually win a pennant. Just winning and being in the first division would be great incentive for the fellows around here,” said Banks in the March 3, 1966 edition of Newsday."

Jack Brickhouse and Ferguson Jenkins recalled constant feuding, and Jenkins told of Durocher giving the first base job to a different player every spring, and Ernie winning the job back.

Banks retired following the 1971 season, when he was no longer able to play as well as he would have liked. In 1977, he was named to the Hall of Fame, and the Cubs retired his #14 in 1982.

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On Opening Day in 2008, the team unveiled a statue of Banks outside of Wrigley Field. In 2013, Banks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony at the White House. He passed on January 23, 2015, in Chicago.

He is missed by many.