On January 19, 1977 Ernie Banks was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). It was his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot and he was chosen by 83% (321) of the 383 writers eligible to vote.
Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Banks was discovered by the Kansas City Monarchs as he played with a black amateur team while a senior in high school. After graduating in 1950, he became the Monarch’s shortstop. Buck O’Neil was his manager and future New York Yankee catcher Elston Howard was a teammate. Banks spent the next two years in the Army and returned to the Monarchs in 1953. He was selected to play in the East West All Star Game that August.
The next month, the Chicago Cubs bought Banks’ contract from the Monarchs for $10,000. He became the first African American to play in a Major League game for the Cubs on September 17, 1953. For the next 19 years he wore a Cub uniform and never played in the minor leagues.
I first became aware of Banks in the late 1950s, the peak of his career. He was my father’s favorite player. From 1955 – 1960, Banks hit 248 home runs, more than any other Major League player during that period of time; more than Mickey Mantle (231), Eddie Matthews (226), Willie Mays (214), and Henry Aaron (166). He hit over 40 home runs in five of those six years. An eleven time All Star, Banks was named National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1958 and 1959. He led the National League in home runs twice, 47 in 1958 and 41 in 1960. Banks is member of the 500 career home run club with 512.
Who was Banks’ teammate on 1953 East West All Star squad that went on to play with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1960 and 1961?