May 12, 1970: Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks hits his 500th home run
With just three to go as the MLB season opened in 1970, his daughter Jan requested he kindly “get it over with.” On May 12, 1970, Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks hit his 500th home run. He answered his daughter’s impatience by sending an inside-and-up pitch from Atlanta’s Pat Jarvis into the left field bleachers. This was just one of many records reached by the man fans called “Mr. Cub” and voted “Greatest Cub Ever” in a 1969 Chicago Sun-Times fan poll.
The Greatest Cub Ever starts playing baseball
A native of Dallas, Banks was born in 1931. His father Eddie Banks played catcher for the Dallas Black Giants traveling team for eight years in the Negro League. Banks also played for the Negro leagues at first, debuting for the Kansas City Monarchs as a 19-year-old. After a two-year hitch in the Army, he returned to the Monarchs before his contract was sold to the Cubs in 1953. He debuted on September 17 as the first African American to play for the Cubs. Before hitting his 500th home run 17 years later, Banks would win MVP in 1958 and 1959.
Ernie Banks honored in later life
Before retiring from the Cubs in 1971, Banks littered the landscape with franchise records. In his 19 seasons, he was the Cubs’ all-time leader in games played with 2,528, total bases with 4,706, and extra-base hits with 1,009. And he led the club in all-time hits with 512.
He collected many awards after retirement, too. Banks was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, his first year of eligibility, had his number 14 retired in 1982 and was honored with a statue outside Wrigley Field in 2008. He went on to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. On awarding it, President Barack Obama noted that “Mr. Cub” was “known as much for his 512 home runs as for his cheer and optimism, and his eternal faith that someday the Cubs would go all the way.” Banks died January 23, 2015, but was surely an angel in the outfield when the Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016 for the first time in 108 years.