CHICAGO -- Cubs legend Ernie Banks has died at the age of 83. 'Mr. Cub' passed away Friday night at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Details of his death have not been released but the City of Chicago is joining the Chicago Cubs in remembering the man who made history on the North Side and earned just about every honor and award but a World Series.
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts released the following statement Friday night:
"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. He was a pioneer in the major leagues. And 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."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement describing Banks as a great Chicagoan and an even greater ball player
"Ernie Banks was more than a baseball player. He was one of Chicago's greatest ambassadors. He loved this city as much as he loved -- and lived for -- the game of baseball. This year, during every Cubs game, you can bet that No.14 will be watching over his team. And if we're lucky, it'll be a beautiful day for not just one ballgame, but two. My deepest sympathy to his wife, Liz, family, and friends."
Banks began his professional baseball career at 19 when he signed a contract with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. After two years in the army, Banks' contract was sold by the Monarchs to the Cubs for $10,000.
Banks was the first African-American to play in a Cubs game, playing a handful of contests in 1953. Starting in 1954, he rarely left the Cubs lineup for 18 years. Banks rose to stardom in 1955 with a 44 home run season. He won the National League MVP in 1958 and 1959.
Despite Banks' success, the Cubs continued to lose--until 1969. The Cubs became a contender that summer, only to collapse late in the season and miss out on the playoffs. Banks continued to put up numbers, hitting his 500th home run in 1970.
Banks retired following the 1971 season with 512 career home runs. He continued to serve as a Cubs coach, instructor and administrator. Banks was bestowed with the Presidential Medal of Honor at the White House in 2013. His number was the first retired by the Cubs and in 2008 the team unveiled a statue of Banks off the corner of Clark and Addison.
Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. released this statement late Friday:
"One of the greatest baseball players in the history of the game, a Hall of Famer, Ernie Banks, has passed away. He was one of the great crossover baseball players of his day as he made the transition from the Negro Baseball Leagues to Major League Baseball. He was not only a great baseball player, but beyond his talent as a shortstop and eventually a first baseman, was his character, his eternal optimism – “let’s play two today“ - and his personality was a racial bridge builder. He treated all people with dignity and respect. He never stopped reaching out to bridge the racial chasms. I am proud to say that the Rainbow PUSH Coalition led the fight to get a statue of Ernie Banks at Wrigley Field and I’m glad that it happened and he saw it in his lifetime. “Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, you will be missed by Chicago baseball fans especially, but baseball fans everywhere will miss this hero.”