CHICAGO — Ernie Banks, the Hall of Fame Cubs star who thrilled generations of fans and became "Mr. Cub," died Friday at age 83.
The team declared him the "Greatest Cub in franchise history" and few would argue.
Not only did he lead the team on the field and in the dugout, his continued presence with the club long after his retirement and enshrinement in the Hall of Fame bridged generations of fans who all shared something in common: Ernie Banks.
“Words cannot express how important Ernie Banks will always be to the Chicago Cubs, the city of Chicago and Major League Baseball. He was one of the greatest players of all time,” said Tom Ricketts, Chairman of the Cubs. “He was a pioneer in the major leagues. And more importantly, he was the warmest and most sincere person I've ever known.
“Approachable, ever optimistic and kind hearted, Ernie Banks is and always will be Mr. Cub. My family and I grieve the loss of such a great and good-hearted man, but we look forward to celebrating Ernie's life in the days ahead.”
Banks played 19 seasons on the North Side, making his debut in 1953. He retired in 1971 and was ushered into Cooperstown in 1977.
He was a 14-time All-Star and won back-to-back National League MVPs in 1958 and 1959. He hit 47 homers with 129 RBI in 1958, and 45 homers with 143 RBI in 1959.
His 500th home run, to deep left in Wrigley Field, is an iconic moment in Cubs history, with broadcaster Jack Brickhouse celebrating: "He did it! He did it!"
Banks finished with 512 home runs — including an NL record 277 as a shortstop.
He was the first of many things for the Cubs, including the team's first black player.
When he took over the team following the ejection of his manager in 1973, he became the first black manager.
When his number was retired in 1982, he was the first Cubs to have his number hang from the foul pole.
Although broadcaster Harry Caray got a statue first, Banks became the first Cubs player to get a statue. Carved on the pedestal is "Let's play two," Banks' signature phrase and an enduring symbol of his unwavering optimism and love for the game.
If there was a Mt. Rushmore of Chicago athletes, Banks' face would grace it.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement shortly after Banks' passing.
"Ernie Banks was more than a baseball player. He was one of Chicago's greatest ambassadors. He loved this city as much as he loved -- and lived for -- the game of baseball. This year, during every Cubs game, you can bet that No.14 will be watching over his team. And if we're lucky, it'll be a beautiful day for not just one ballgame, but two. My deepest sympathy to his wife, Liz, family, and friends."
In 2013, Banks was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The Cubs and Wrigley Field are 95 percent owned by a trust established for the benefit of the family of Joe Ricketts, owner and CEO of DNAinfo.com. Joe Ricketts has no direct involvement in the management of the iconic team.
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