CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, the pioneering and famously affable slugger hailed by the team for which he played 19 seasons as “the greatest Cub in franchise history,” has died at age 83, the club said in a statement on Friday.
A shortstop and first baseman renowned as “Mr. Cub” and “Mr. Sunshine,” Banks joined the team as its first black player in 1953, six years after Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball’s color barrier on the Brooklyn Dodgers, and remained with the Cubs until his retirement in 1971, hitting 512 career home runs and 1,636 runs batted in (RBI).
Banks later became the first African American to manage a major league team when, while serving as a Cubs coach in May 1973, he filled in for the ejected manager Whitey Lockman during a game.
He died Friday evening in Chicago, according to an attorney for the family, Mark Bogen, who said Banks’ wife, Liz, would be holding a news conference on Sunday. Bogen said he was not at liberty to disclose details about the circumstances of Banks’ death.
Besides his athletic gifts on the baseball diamond, Banks was famed for an irrepressibly upbeat demeanor that never seemed to fade during his tenure with the perennially hapless Cubs.
His signature catch phrase, “Let’s play two,” adorns his statue at Wrigley Field.
He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama in 2013. His old team announced his death in a statement saluting him as “the greatest Cub in franchise history.”
“He was one of the greatest players of all time,” Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. “He was a pioneer in the major leagues. And more importantly, he was the warmest and most sincere person I’ve ever known.”
Inducted into Baseball’s Hame of Fame in 1977, he also became the first player from the Cubs’ roster to have his number - 14- retired, in 1982. He also was a 14-time All-Star and was named the National League’s most valuable player in 1958 and 1959.
He was also voted onto the league’s All-Century Team and was honored on the field at the 1999 All-Star Game at Boston’s Fenway Park.
“We’ve got the setting: sunshine, fresh air. We’ve got the team behind us. So, let’s play two,” Banks said with a smile during his Hall of Fame induction speech.
Reporting by Mary Wisniewski in Chicago; Writing by Steve Gorman and Curtis Skinner; Editing by Simon Clarence Fernandez and William Hardy