DALEY PLAZA — Baseball fans from across Chicago, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Ronnie "Woo Woo" Wickers, appeared Wednesday to pay their respects to Ernie Banks, the Cubs' first black player.
The Cubs and city officials honored "Mr. Cub" by installing his statue at Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St. The statue will remain there through Saturday.
A Baseball Hall of Famer and 14-time All-Star, Banks integrated the Cubs when he signed with the North Siders in 1953. He played his entire 19-year career with the often-hapless club, but despite the team's struggles, endeared fans with his power and pleasant demeanor.
Banks, 83, died Friday after suffering a heart attack.
"He was a part of Chicago," said Wickers, a longtime Wrigleyville mainstay who has followed the team since 1949. "He said 'no matter what you do in life, it don't cost nothing to be nice.'"
"They should keep the statue here year-round," Wickers added.
The statue usually lives at Wrigley Field, but was removed in October for restoration, along with the longstanding statue of announcer Harry Caray.
Hendiz Flynn, a 60-year-old Lawndale native, traveled from his Chicago Heights home Wednesday to honor the Cubs legend.
Flynn said his favorite Banks memory was at Wrigley Field, where he and a buddy were sitting on the third base line during a game. Banks hit a foul ball in their direction and Flynn’s friend took the ball home.
As a Southwest Sider, Flynn said he "had to pretend I was a Sox fan, but I knew nothing about the Sox. My allegiance was to the Cubs."
Rev. Jesse Jackson, a civil rights activist who has spent much of his career in Chicago, called Banks "a quality spirit."
"I loved the guy," he said.
Others in attendance included Larry Hodek, a 66-year-old Berwyn native and White Sox fan, who fondly recalled catching the late innings of Cubs games after school.
"Ernie was the real deal," he said. "A superstar and friendly beyond belief. It was infectious. Just because you're a South Side fan doesn't mean you didn't love Ernie Banks."
Joan McEneany, a 57-year-old native of the South Side Scottsdale neighborhood, also grew up a Sox fan, but won free Cubs tickets as a child for perfect attendance in school. She also admired Banks.
"He was just 'Mr. Cub,'" she said. "He loved the game. It wasn't about money. It was 'let's play two.'"
Banks' visitation begins at noon Friday at Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut St.
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