Just as he had the game of baseball, “Mr. Cub®” Ernie Banks approached life after baseball with his trademark enthusiasm and commitment to being the best. And, just as he had during his 11-year playing career, Banks has remained loyal and actively involved with the Chicago Cubs for more than 54 years.
His remarkable love for Chicago fans and longevity within the Cubs’ organization place him among a select group of legendary men who spent 50 years or more representing a single MLB team in one way or another, such as: Stan Musial, Tommy Lasorda, Brooks Robins, Al Kaline and Johnny Pesky. Ernie Banks is a living, breathing part of The Chicago Cubs past, present and future..just as Tommy Lasorda is - to many people – the L.A. Dodgers.
Ernie Banks Honored
In 1967 Banks became the first black Ford dealer in the United States. “Mr. Wrigley and my friendship with him is what made that happen,” Banks recalled. “I called Mr. Wrigley and said, ‘Mr. Wrigley, I'm going into this business and I don't know a lot about it, I need your help.’ He said OK and he called up Mr. Ford and they set me up in the dealership as a partnership. Mr. Wrigley even bought the first car from me.”
After retiring as a player on December 1, 1971, Banks became the first player in Cubs history to have his number retired. The Cubs signed him as a coach and on May 8, 1973, Cubs manager Whitey Lockman was ejected from the game. Coach Ernie Banks filled in as manager for the two innings of the 12-inning 3-2 win over the San Diego Padres. Thus, he was technically, if not officially, MLB's first black manager, predating Frank Robinson's hiring by almost two years.
“Mr. Cub®” Ernie Banks in Tuzla, Bosnia.
In 1977, Banks was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Chicago fans will always remember him as the ballplayer who said, "What a great day for baseball! Let's Play Two®!" He will always be "Mr. Cub®," the most popular player the team ever had.
“Mr. Cub®” Ernie Banks poses Dec. 19, 2000, with an Army sergeant at Task Force Eagle headquarters in Tuzla, Bosnia (right). At each stop on the defense secretary's holiday tour, Banks told service members they are playing on the best "team" in the world. In December 2000, Banks was one of a star spangled contingent that took part in U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen's annual holiday USO tour visited Europe. Banks was joined by NFL Hall of Famers Mike Singletary and Terry Bradshaw, members of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, comedian Al Franken, and singing stars Carol King, Ruth Pointer-Sayles, Jewel and Shane Minor.
Later that year, “Mr. Cub®” was part of a U.S. contingent that traveled to Japan to reinforce international baseball camaraderie. When asked what he thought about the first game of the 2000 MLB season being played in Tokyo, Banks answered: “ It was a wonderful thing; I was there, Hank Aaron was there, Billy Williams was there, and it really created a tremendous amount of goodwill between the U.S. and Japan. The experience with Ambassador Foley, who hosted us in Japan, not only enhanced the image of baseball, it made all the players who went there better people capable of understanding and sharing more things about baseball and life in general.”
An elder statesman for the game of baseball and popular personality everywhere he goes, Banks is often asked questions by younger players and fans. “People ask me a lot about the values I got from playing for the Cubs for so many years. The value I got out of it was patience,” he explained. “A lot of people these days aren't very patient. They want things right now. It's a "now" generation. Fame comes and it goes, but I think, with patience and good friendships, you can make the most of everything that comes your way in life.”
Mr. Cub® with 500 HRC Members
Although he celebrated his 78th birthday in January, “Mr. Cub®” is showing no signs of slowing down. Ernie and his wife Liz Banks, who is President of THE 500 HOME RUN CLUB®, are featured in this month’s “O” Magazine, and Chicago’s beloved “Ambassador of Baseball” will once again be accompanying the team as they enter Spring Training next month. He also has a book and movie deal in the works for 2007, which is appropriate for a man who’s known to say “Let’s Play Two.”