KANSAS CITY, Mo. – He’s best known as “Mr. Cub,” a baseball legend who spent his entire major league career in a Chicago Cubs uniform. What you might not know is that he got his start here in Kansas City.
Baseball great Ernie Banks died Friday night at 83, after a long illness. His memory is alive and well in Kansas City; a place that remembers and honors one of baseball’s greatest players.
The news of Ernie Banks’ death was personal for Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
“I would get a phone call from Ernie Banks and you could hear the smile in his voice and no matter how your day was going, you perked up,” he said.
Kendrick described a larger-than-life personality to those who knew him and the fans who watched him play.
“Ernie Banks was one of those guys who transitioned from the Negro Leagues into the Major Leagues, had an exemplary career, and again it speaks to the talent that was there,” said Kendrick.
Banks, originally from Dallas, came to know and love Kansas City. It was a place he eventually called his “school, his learning, his world.” Before he became “Mr. Cub,” Banks played a season with the Kansas City Monarchs. The field where he played was at 22nd and Brooklyn.
Banks spent two years in the army, had and a couple more seasons in KC, then took off to Chicago.
“It was our city that gave Ernie Banks to the Cubs and Ernie Banks to the rest of the world. I do think that’s something we should be proud of,” Kendrick said.
A pride shown in the museum pictures that capture his smile; a trademark that didn’t fade, even when his team had no hope for victory.
Kendrick said, “He never played in a playoff game. We’re talking about one of the greatest baseball players in the history of our sport, who unfortunately never got to experience playoff baseball there in Chicago.”
Banks was a back-to-back National League MVP, a National Baseball League hall of famer and the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. It’s an impressive list; accomplishments that stretch far beyond a batting average. Kendrick said it was all achieved by Banks’ genuine love for life, people and baseball.
“We might be losing, but the sun is shining and let’s play two. That was his personality. That was Ernie Banks. And that was Ernie Banks all the way to the bitter end,” he said.
Banks was the first African American to play for the Cubs, and his number the first the team retired. There are between 100 and 120 former Negro League players still living. The Negro League Baseball Museum will celebrate its 25th anniversary this November. Ernie Banks was slated to be a part of the festivities.