Four days after the 38th anniversary of his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Ernie Banks died two weeks ago on January 23. The former shortstop/first baseman for the Chicago Cubs was 83 years old.
After Jackie Robinson crashed through Major League baseball’s closed door for African American and Hispanic ballplayers in 1947, Ernie Banks made sure the door stayed open through his performance on the field during the 1950s.
From 1955 – 1959, Banks hit 248 home runs, more than any other Major League player during that period of time. He hit over 40 home runs in five of those six years, leading the National League in home runs twice, 47 in 1958 and 41 in 1960. Banks also had more Runs Batted In (RBI) than anyone else during that time period with 693, an average of 115 per year. He was named National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1958 and 1959, the first and one of only four African American players to receive that honor for consecutive years; Joe Morgan (1975 - 1976), Frank Thomas (1993 - 1994), and Barry Bonds (1992 – 1993, 2001 – 2004) being the others. An eleven time All Star, Banks is member of the 500 career home run club with 512.
In order for baseball’s “great experiment” of integration to fully work, there had to be successful players to build on the accomplishments of Jackie Robinson. No player did more statistically on the field in the 1950s to solidify the place of African Americans in the Major Leagues than Ernie Banks. He is in the forefront of any conversation about the best player in the Major Leagues during the mid to late 1950s.
What other former Negro League player was a multiple National League Most Valuable Player Award winner in the 1950s?