Ernie Banks, the Chicago Cubs great who was affectionately known as "Mr. Cub" and was the face of the franchise for decades, has passed away at the age of 83.
Banks was the first African-American to don a Cubs uniform, and it was the only one he would wear.
In a 19-year career, Banks slugged 512 home runs, drove in 1636 RBI, and perhaps more than any other player who has ever played for the franchise embodied the spirit of the club in the eyes and hearts of Cubs fans.
Even after his playing career came to an end in 1971, Banks continued to be an ambassador for the team.
He was a constant fixture at Cubs games, often singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" after the passing of Harry Caray in 1998, and he was one of the most popular figures at the annual Cubs Convention.
Banks made his MLB debut in 1952 at the age of 22 years old, and as his career went on he cemented his status as a legend. He was never better than in the 1958 and 1959 seasons. He won the MVP award in both seasons, and he set career highs in both home runs and RBI in those seasons.
Unfortunately for Banks and the Cubs, he never made it to the postseason as a member of the team. In the 1969 season, Banks teamed up with fellow legends Ron Santo and Billy Williams and led the team to a massive lead in the standings as August ended. As September unfolded however, the Cubs faded badly, and they missed out on the postseason as the New York Mets surged and ultimately won the World Series title.
Despite not having postseason experience on his resume, Banks was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, and he never stopped being an ambassador for the game and for the team. His indomitable spirit and constant optimism were a bright spot for the Cubs through some of the team's leanest years, and despite teams coming close in 1984 and 2003, Banks' teams were the ones that fans still talk about and remember.
"Words cannot express how important Ernie Banks will always be to the Chicago Cubs, the city of Chicago and Major League Baseball," Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. "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."