This Day in Sports History: Ernie Banks Hits Home Run No. 500

Author:
Publish date:

Fifty years ago today, Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks became the ninth player in MLB history to record 500 home runs.

On May 12, 1970, a 39-year-old Banks launched his landmark 500th home run during the second inning of a 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves. The 19-year veteran, who was the first African American player in Cubs' franchise history, spent his entire career in Chicago and earned the nickname "Mr. Cub." 

Banks entered the season just three home runs shy of the mark. He said he made sure to "get it over with" for his daughter, who was anxious for the feat to be reached. 

Banks went on to finish his career with 512 total home runs, which is second in Cubs history behind Sammy Sosa (545). The total is tied for 23rd on the all-time MLB list. 

In 1950, Banks began his professional baseball career after he signed out of high school to play for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. He served in the U.S. military for two years and then returned briefly to the Monarchs. The Cubs signed Banks for $35,000 in 1953.

Banks began his MLB career as a shortstop and became the Cubs' regular first baseman by the 1962 season. He was an All-Star at both positions and excelled offensively, hitting for over 40 home runs five times and driving in 100 runs eight times in his career.

Despite playing in 2,528 games, Banks never saw time in a postseason game—a stretch that stands as an MLB record. The Cubs came closest to a playoff berth in 1969 and 1970, but the team finished both seasons in second place in the NL East. 

In the last four years of his career, Banks spent time as a player-coach in Chicago. He retired from the game in 1971 at 40 years of age and spent the following year on the bench as a coach. 

Despite never logging a minute in a playoff game, Banks became a first-ballot Hall of Famer and was inducted into Cooperstown in 1977. Five years later, Banks' No. 14 became the first uniform number retired by the Cubs organization and he was later honored with a statue outside Wrigley Field in 2008. 

Banks was beloved in Chicago and is remembered for his smile and positive spirit. His phrase, "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame... Let's play two!" continues to be echoed throughout MLB and is a reminder for his love of the game. 

Outside baseball, Banks made his mark in the community by founding a charity, becoming the first African American Ford dealer in the U.S. and attempting to run for a local political office position. In 2013, Banks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for his contribution to sports.

“That’s Mr. Cub — the man who came up through the Negro Leagues, making $7 a day, and became the first black player to suit up for the Cubs and one of the greatest hitters of all time,” Obama said. “In the process, Ernie became known as much for his 512 home runs as for his cheer and his optimism, and his eternal faith that someday the Cubs would go all the way.”

On Jan. 23, 2015, eight days shy of his 84th birthday, Banks died of a heart attack. Mr. Cub finished his MLB career as a two-time MVP, 14-time All-Star, Gold Glove winner and Hall of Fame member.