Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Barrier Breakers: Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs

January 31, 1865 the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery passed in Congress. Coincidentally, January 31st is the birthday shared by Ernie Banks and Jackie Robinson. Mr. Cub broke the color barrier for the Chicago Cubs more than 6 years after Jackie Robinson did the same for all of Major League Baseball.  The Cubs were the third NL team to integrate, and Banks was the third Negro League turned MLB player enshrined in Cooperstown behind Robinson and Monte Irvin. When he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama, he presented the first Black President with a bat used by Jackie Robinson. 

On and off the field, Banks was known for his friendly, joyous demeanor.  "Mr. Sunshine" was his nickname even before he became "Mr. Cub".  After his passing in 2015, Jesse Jackson described his cheerfulness as a thermostat that helped control the temperature of his times. He was beloved by fans and teammates alike. His enthusiasm was infectious. 

I also have to mention Gene Baker who was acquired by the Cubs prior to Ernie Banks but made his MLB debut 3 days later.  The two were the first black double play combo in the Majors.