Who was Ernie Banks?
It’s a question many people were asking in the fall of 2016 when the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years. The 2016 Cubs were the sixth club to overcome a 3-games-to-1 deficit to win the seven-game series.
Banks was one of the stars of the Cubs teams of the 1950s and ‘60s who did not live long enough to see the Cubs win the World Series, a fact that was mentioned often on the air during the games. Because of his lasting popularity within the Chicago area, he is still known as “Mr. Cub.”
“Unless you’re a Cubs fan or you’ve lived near Dallas, where he was from, people here might not know who he was” local author Doug Wilson said. “It’s a shame he’s been overshadowed or forgotten about because he is a Chicago icon with a great story. Because of his popular image as Mr. Cub, people may think of him as just a baseball player. He was more than that.”
Wilson will tell the local community about Banks when he promotes his new biography of the Cubs star, “Let’s Play Two: The Life and Times of Ernie Banks,” at 6 p.m. Feb. 21 in the Red Room of the Bartholomew County Public Library. Copies of the book will be available for purchase from Viewpoint Books.
“It’s good to have people here in Columbus who support the arts and authors like me,” Wilson said. “It’s important to remember Ernie Banks because he was the first black player to play for the Chicago Cubs. I learned a lot about the city of Chicago while researching the book. Back when Ernie played the town was divided by the Red Line transit system. African-American people couldn’t live on the North Side, where the Cubs played their home games. They had to live on the South Side.”
With the aid of his mentor, second baseman Gene Baker, Banks was able to excel on the field and off while breaking the Cubs’ color line.
“Baker had been in the minors a long time,” Wilson said. “He’d played with a lot of white players, but Ernie had always played in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs. He’d never played white players. So Baker taught him how to navigate his way around the locker room and play baseball with white teammates. He was invaluable to Banks’ development as a player.”
While playing shortstop, Banks collected more home runs and runs batted in than anyone else in baseball from 1955-60. In 1958 and 1959, he also captured the National League’s Most Valuable Player award.
Banks switched to first base in 1961 because of a knee injury. At the time of his retirement a decade later, his career 277 homers as a shortstop was still a record for the position. Banks hit 512 homers, second all-time in Cubs history. He played in 2,528 games in his career, a Cubs record.
When Wilson spoke at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory last month to a group of diehard fans, they learned that there is much more to Banks than his statistics. People who attend Wilson’s upcoming library presentation will discover the same things.
“I enjoyed his talk at the Slugger Museum and Factory” Cubs fan Joe Cox said. “Whether you’re a diehard Cubs fan or don’t know anything about Ernie Banks, you’ll enjoy Doug Wilson’s presentation about Ernie Banks. He’s done a lot of research and he can pull anyone into his presentation. Both my 6-year-old son and I found it interesting and informative.”
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Local author Doug Wilson will give a talk about, "Let’s Play Two: The Life and Times of Ernie Banks," at 6 p.m. Feb. 21 in the Red Room of the Bartholomew County Public Library.