Even as the Chicago Cubs lost one game after another, Ernie Banks never lost hope.
That was the charm of “Mr. Cub.”
Banks, the Hall of Fame slugger and two-time MVP who always maintained his boundless enthusiasm for baseball despite decades of playing on miserable teams, died Friday night. He was 83.
The Cubs announced Banks’ death but did not provide a cause.
Banks hit 512 home runs during his 19-year career and was fond of saying, “It’s a great day for baseball. Let’s play two.” In fact, that sunny finish to his famous catchphrase adorns his statue outside Wrigley Field.
And on a cold winter night Friday in Chicago, the ballpark marquee carried the sad news for the entire town to see: Ernie Banks. “Mr. Cub.” 1931-2015.
“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,” Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement released by the team. “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.”
In a statement Saturday, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama expressed their condolences “to the family of Ernie Banks, and to every Chicagoan and baseball fan who loved him.” The president said Banks became known as much for his optimism and love of the game as his home runs and back-to-back National League MVPs.
Though he was an 11-time All-Star from 1953 to 1971, Banks never reached the postseason. The Cubs, who haven’t won the World Series since 1908, finished below .500 in all but six of his seasons and remain without a pennant since 1945
Still, Banks was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977, the first year he was eligible, and was selected to baseball’s All-Century team in 1999.
Thumbnail photo via Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports Images
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