Ernest Banks, his family’s first son and second child, was born in Dallas, Texas on January 31, 1931 and devoted the first few years of his childhood to helping around the house and attending Church and Sunday school. For a while, his mother thought that Banks would take after his grandfather to become a minister but she was proven wrong when Banks got involved in playing baseball with his father.
Banks’ father played for the Dallas Green Monarchs and the Black Giants and allowed his son to serve as a batboy for the two teams. However, Banks did not start playing baseball himself until he reached his teens and continued to be involved in a number of sports in high school, especially basketball, averaging 20 points per game and jumping to a height of almost six feet. Banks also played softball during the summers when he was not working at the cotton fields near Dallas.
In 1947, Ernie Banks was spotted playing softball by William Blair, a black newspaper publisher and ex-Negro League pitcher, who immediately recognized Banks’ potential and assisted him in earning a spot in the black baseball team from Amarillo. Banks spent one summer playing for the team and proved to be a fast learner, adapting techniques after they were shown to him once.
During one of Amarillo’s games against one of the premier teams in black baseball, Kansas City Monarchs, the Manager of the latter team was impressed by Banks’ work and signed him to the Monarchs after his graduation in 1950. Spending the first to season in the U.S. Army, Banks returned to the Monarchs in 1953 who were heading towards a downfall with most of their players transferring to the majors and hence, needed Banks to finish the season for the team. When the 1953 season reached its end, Chicago Cubs bought Banks from the Monarchs for $10,000.
Banks became the first African American to play for the team and played 10 games for the Cubs that year making a major league debut at the Wrigley field with an average of 0.314 and two home runs. In 1954, Banks served the team as the Cubs’ starting shortstop and remained one of the most dominant offensive threats in baseball until his retirement in 1971.
From 1955 to 1960, Banks proved to be the most productive home run hitter in the game, averaging more than 115 runs and over 41 homers a year. Starting in 1958, Banks was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player for two consecutive years even though the Cubs were unable to win either of the seasons.
Throughout his career, Banks remained a consistent player contributing regularly to the Cubs for whom he played 424 games in a row, making a record for a player who had just started playing baseball. The only interruption to Banks’ career was a minor injury which he soon recovered from and proceeded to play another 717 straight games for the Cubs.
His baseball career was brought to a slow down as Banks progressed into his 30s. Nevertheless, he continued to hit 20 to 30 home runs a year. In 1961, Banks was moved from the position of shortstop to first base where he remained for the rest of his career.
At the end of his sports career, Banks tried to put his efforts into other fields such as banking and politics. However, the baseball player continued to receive honours for his contributions to the game even years after his retirement.
In 1977, Ernie Banks was inducted into the National baseball Hall of Fame. He also became the first player to have his number retired by a team as the Cubs retired his uniform in 1982. Known as Mr. Cubs for his contributions to the team, Banks was also named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999.