Banking on Baseball: The Legend We Call Ernie Banks

Image of Ernie Banks published in Chicago Sun Times

What makes someone beloved? Is that even something we can answer? I found myself asking this question about shortstop and first baseman Ernie Banks. “Mr. Cub,” as he was dubbed by Chicago newspaper writer Jim Enright, became Banks’ go-to nickname during his time with the Chicago Cubs [1]. He played his entire nineteen-year career in the Major League with the Cubs and stayed with them as a coach and ambassador after he retired from playing in 1971. Ernie Banks is the one player who “thoroughly and completely identified with the Cubs…[and] represented the franchise with class and enthusiasm” [2]. Despite his career as a player having ended nearly 50 years ago, Chicagoans of all ages seem to know and love Ernie Banks for what he represents as a person and baseball player.

Ernie Banks Statue outside Wrigley Field, dedicated on March 31, 2008

Teammates and non-teammates alike do not hesitate to express their appreciation for Banks. For that reason, on March 31, 2008, opening day for the Chicago Cubs’ baseball season, a statue was unveiled right outside the Clark street entrance to Wrigley Field of Ernie Banks. At the unveiling of his statue, other famous and well-respected baseball players including Hank Aaron, Billy Williams, and Ron Santo spoke to highlight the spirit Ernie Banks embodied that made him the perfect ballplayer [3]. If you know Ernie Banks, you know his most-quoted phrase, “Let’s play two.” His love for the game and the Cubs, his incredible skill, and his positive energy are what drew people to him, even those who didn’t grow up watching him play. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Banks noted after being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, “Barack Obama gave it to me; he’d never seen me play!” [4]. But having a statue outside Wrigley Field showing him waiting for a pitch and engraved with his nickname, favorite phrase, and career accomplishments is a way for his legacy to live on and communicate to passersby who he was, what he did, and what he means to so many people.


With all the love Banks receives from fans past and present, one would think he grew up living and breathing Chicago and baseball. However, he grew up in Dallas, Texas and played football and basketball for his high school teams and softball on the community team. It was on the community softball team where Banks was recognized for his potential to play baseball as a career. In 1948, Bill Blair noticed seventeen-year-old Banks and recruited him for the Negro Baseball League. Blair was a pitcher and outfielder in the Negro League in the late 1940s and at the time he saw Banks playing, he was scouting for new players in Amarillo, Texas.


The Negro Leagues was a product of the racial segregation that characterized America after the Civil War. According to Edward White, “[n]o stated policy or written rule existed that barred blacks from participating in Organized Baseball. It was nonetheless apparent that no blacks could participate” [5]. By 1903, segregated baseball leagues for whites and Blacks were firmly established. This did not change until 1947 when Jackie Robinson was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers, making him the first person to break the color barrier. However, it took another twelve years for every team in the Major League to include Black players in their lineups, with the Boston Red Sox being the last team to sign a black player in 1959 [6].


Ernie Banks, who had played in the Negro League for the Kansas City Monarchs, broke the color barrier for the Chicago Cubs, as he was the first Black player they signed in 1953. He would go on to have an incredible career of hitting 512 home runs, hitting five grand slams in a single season (1955), setting a Major League record as a shortstop that same season by hitting forty-four homeruns in a season—then breaking his own record with forty-seven homeruns in 1958—and being the first National League player to be named MVP two years in a row (1958 and 1959) [7]. Banks accomplished all this without ever playing in a post-season game. Ernie’s nineteen years with the Cubs was during their 37-year losing streak that kept them from making it to the post-season. During Banks’ residency from 1953-1971, the Cubs hadn’t competed in the post-season since they lost to the Detroit Tigers in 1945 for the World Series, and it would still be another twelve years after Banks retired that the Cubs would make it to the League Championship Series, where they would lose to the San Diego Padres in 1984.


Perhaps that is what makes it even more remarkable that Ernie Banks is so beloved by Chicagoans despite their losing record throughout Banks’ career as a Chicago Cub. Being known and loved for his enthusiasm for a game and a team that could not seem to have a winning season for the entirety of his career is a remarkable quality and a testament to Banks’ character. Honoring Banks and his legacy with his statue outside the main entrance of the “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field is a show of respect and appreciation of his positive devotion to the Cubs franchise throughout his life [8].


The outpouring of love for Ernie online and in print is undeniable. YouTube clips about Ernie or interviews with him always come with comments from viewers describing a memory of watching Ernie play, an interaction they had with him, or what he meant to them and their family. In books and articles about him, the authors always share the impact Banks had on their lives. A couple who both love the Cubs and live in Lakeview, even decided to name their dog after Ernie Banks and devote an Instagram page to @Erniethe_doodle.

@erniethe_doodle visiting his namesake outside Wrigley Field and playing ball. Permission for using these images granted by his owners.


Statues are built for a reason. The person embodied in the statue made an impact in some way and is therefore thought to be deserving of such immortalization to remind current and future generations of their accomplishments and worthiness of being remembered. With all the controversy and politicization surrounding other statues and monuments to long dead influencers of history, it is hard to imagine Ernie Banks’ statue could ever follow in those footsteps. His goodness has been recognized for over sixty years now, and his statue will continue to remind Chicago baseball fans what it means to love the game.

Melissa Newman, Loyola University Chicago



[1] Freedman, Lew. Ernie Banks: the Life and Career of “Mr. Cub.” (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2019), 11.

[2] Freedman, 3.

[3] “Cubs Legend Banks Honored With Statue Outside Wrigley Field”. 2008. ESPN.Com. https://www.espn.com/mlb/news/story?id=3322443.

[4] Chicago Tribune. “Mr. Cub.” 2014. YouTube video, 4:07. April 3, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQL-F61pg78.

[5] White, G. Edward. “The Negro Leagues” in Creating the National Pastime: Baseball Transforms Itself, 1903-1953. Pp.128. Princeton University Press, https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x0sm0.9.

[6] Rapoport, Ron. Let’s Play Two: the Legend of “Mr. Cub,” the Life of Ernie Banks. (New York: Hachette Books, 2019), 71.

[7] “Banks, Ernest (Ernie).” Oxford African American Studies Center. 1 Dec. 2006; Accessed 22 Nov. 2020. https://oxfordaasc-com.dom.idm.oclc.org/view/10.1093/acref/9780195301731.001.0001/acref-9780195301731-e-40156.

[8] Banks coined the now famous title that refers to Wrigley Field as “the Friendly Confines” after the Cubs were on the road for a while: “He was noting how good it felt to be home again for the Cubs’ next games.” Freedman, 4.


List of Images (in order of appearance):

Greenberg, Steve. 2020. “Touch ’em all, Ernie Banks: It’s the 50-year anniversary of home run No. 500 for Mr. Cub.” Chicago Sun-Times. https://chicago.suntimes.com/cubs/2020/5/12/21255604/cubs-ernie-banks-500-home-run-mr-cub.

“Ernie Banks Statue.” Photographs taken by Erik Newman, November 14, 2020.

Davie, Ryan and Sarah (@erniethe_doodle). “Just chilling with my namesake, Ernie Banks. I wonder if one day they will put a statue of me next to his…” Instagram. April 25, 2017. https://www.instagram.com/p/BTUDSIYBCmy/

Davie, Ryan and Sarah (@erniethe_doodle). “Smile! It’s Friday! #itsthefreakinweekend” Instagram. November 2, 2018. https://www.instagram.com/p/BprjaDmlgNP/

Davie, Ryan and Sarah (@erniethe_doodle). “Happy Opening Day!!! So excited for baseball to be back in Wrigley Field! Let’s go Cubbies!!” Instagram. April 9, 2018. https://www.instagram.com/p/BhWWN8JjA2Q/

Helping Hands: A Memorial to Jane Addams

The “Helping Hands” memorial to Jane Addams is situated within the Chicago Women’s Park & Gardens near the Prairie Historic District. Louise Bourgeois created the sculpture in 1993 to commemorate the life and works of Jane Addams, founder of Hull House and renowned advocate for women’s rights.[1] It is one of the first monuments in Chicago to memorialize a woman.

“Helping Hands,” by Louise Bergeron.[2]

“Helping Hands” is a series of sculptures made from black granite. Each one of the six is in the shape of a hand or hands and rests on a stone pedestal. The monument was originally situated in the Addams (Jane) Memorial Park near Navy Pier, but after being vandalized several times, it was taken down in 2006. After Bourgeois resculpted parts that had been damaged, the sculpture was moved to its present location in 2011, at the behest of the Art Institute and the Chicago Park District.[3]

Chicago was well overdue for a monument memorializing a woman’s contributions by the time “Helping Hands” came to fruition. It makes sense, too, for the subject to be Jane Addams, whose work with the Hull House advocating for women, laborers, and so many others, places her at the center of Chicago’s rich history of advocacy. Indeed, the six carved hands on their pedestals represent the many people Addams helped throughout her life, without thought to race, gender, or occupation, recalling what Addams herself said in her autobiographical notes: “Perhaps nothing is so fraught with significance as the human hand.”[4]

Part of “Helping Hands,” two sets of hands intertwined.[5]

While perhaps not as common as memorializing generals or statesmen, memorializing advocates who cared for and made the world a better place is worthwhile. The symbolism of “Helping Hands” is lovely and evocative, and sitting in the Chicago Women’s Park & Gardens is a suitable context (though the Hull House Museum, located a short distance away, also seems

like it would have been a good choice), even if it was not the originally intended location. It is interesting to note that one of the few monuments to a woman in the city of Chicago is symbolic in its form rather than literal; with so few memorials to women and their work, perhaps “Helping Hands” should be more literal and straightforward. Disassociating Addam’s work from a corporeal form might serve to place the focus on her acts, but when women have so few monuments to them for their actions, it is somewhat unsatisfying. Given her own words, though, Addams probably would have liked “Helping Hands.”

Hands coming together. [6]

Following the removal of “Helping Hands” from its original location at Addams Memorial Park, the Art Institute and the Chicago Park District worked together to find a new location to place the sculpture. The Art Institute commissioned the piece in the first place (and still retains the maquettes for “Helping Hands” in its collection), so the Institute clearly retained the role of a stakeholder.[7] The Chicago Park District is another clear stakeholder, wishing to both beautify the parks it oversees and have monuments that will please visitors to the parks and not cause too much controversy.[8] Given the events of the last couple of years, with monuments coming down due to public outcry, the public itself is a stakeholder in “Helping Hands.”

Remembering the legacies of Jane Addams and Louis Bourgeois. [9]

“Helping Hands” does not court controversy. There is no evidence that the vandalism it experienced while at the Addams Memorial Park was due to objection to its form or what it stood for, but rather that the vandalism occurred because the monument was low-lying in a place that saw a lot of traffic.[10] While the symbolic nature of the memorial may give pause to those concerned about how few monuments there are to women within Chicago, the sculpture itself is not particularly controversial. With all its pieces carved out of black granite, it is difficult to differentiate the differences between the hands, placing the focus solely on the idea of reaching out to help others. While that focus may problematize the “Helping Hands” for a select few, the monument is unlikely to rouse ire the same way a more contested monument would.

The sculptor, Louise Bourgeois, is well-known for making symbolic pieces that depict abstract ideas. Her input about what “Helping Hands” meant to her—Addam’s compassion and willingness to reach out to those who needed help—probably was mostly responsible for driving the narrative surrounding the monument for quite some time.[11] Following her death, it is harder to say who controls the narrative about “Helping Hands.” As the Art Institute commissioned the piece, they undoubtedly do now and did even when Bourgeois was creating the sculpture. The Chicago Park District, too, has a voice in contextualizing the piece, having played a central role in relocating “Helping Hands.” The two institutions that provide commentary, both in the form of a plaque describing the memorial and a digital resource (originally designed to be scanned at the monument, but also available for the general public on Statue Stories Chicago), continue to drive the narrative about this memorial to Jane Addams, and perhaps thus some of the narrative surrounding Jane Addams, too.[12]

Describing and memorializing Jane Addams. [13]

Despite the way institutions have driven the narrative surrounding the sculpture, there is a power to the monument. Not only is it to be hoped that “Helping Hands,” still too new to have made a lasting mark on the city, will do so over the coming years, but that the memorial will spark more memorials to worthwhile citizens of Chicago who are not white or male. Indeed, perhaps the monument, with its decontextualized hands and emphasis on collaboration and reaching out to help one’s community, will inspire more collaboration and more unity. Perhaps it might even provoke questions about who “Helping Hands” truly memorializes and who deserves to be memorialized.

Amber Mear, Loyola University Chicago


[1] Chicago Park District. “Helping Hands.” Last modified July 21, 2015. https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/helping-hands.

[2] “Helping Hands.”

[3] Glessner House Museum. “Helping Hands…That Talk!” Last modified August 10, 2015. https://www.glessnerhouse.org/story-of-a-house/2015/08/helping-hands-that-talk.html.

[4] Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull House. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1912.

[5]Statue Stories Chicago. “Helping Hands Jane Addams Memorial.” Accessed November 20, 2020. http://www.statuestorieschicago.com/statue-helping-hands.php.

[6] “Helping Hands…That Talk!”

[7] Ibid.

[8] Chicago Park District. “Chicago Women’s Park & Gardens.” Accessed November 20, 2020. https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/chicago-womens-park-and-gardens.

[9] “Helping Hands…That Talk!”

[10] Ibid.

[11] Waller, Mary. “Jane Addams’ “Helping Hands.”” Last modified February 17, 2019. https://janeaddams.ramapo.edu/2019/02/jane-addams-helping-hands/.

[12] “Helping Hands Jane Addams Memorial.”

[13] “Helping Hands…That Talk!”