Ernie Banks was baseball royalty, and his passing on Jan. 23, saddened not just the sports world but anyone who ever got a chance to listen to the man who spread sunshine wherever he went.
He was one of the greatest players of his era, with 512 career home runs with the Chicago Cubs, and hit 40 or more home runs five times as a shortstop.
What people don’t realize is that Banks — and not Frank Robinson — was technically the first African-American to manage in the major leagues.
In 1973 — two years before Robinson was hired to manage the Cleveland Indians — Banks, a coach on the Cubs staff, took over the team in a 2-2 tie in the 11th inning against the San Diego Padres when Cubs manager Whitey Lockman was ejected.
Lockman handed the lineup to Banks, and an African-American manager was officially calling the shots in a regular season major league baseball game for the first time.
Banks’ record as a manager? 1-0.
“I picked Joe Pepitone to face a left-handed pitcher. … He’s a left handed hitter, and he got the hit to win the game,” Banks told Comcast Sportsnet Chicago, recalling the historic game. “Then I brought in Bill Bonham, a right-handed pitcher who didn’t do very well during the season and most of the pitching coaches didn’t like him. I did, and he came in and saved the game.”
There was no particular notice of the significance of the moment.
“I shook everybody’s hands in the clubhouse,” Banks said. “After it was over, they didn’t congratulate me, nobody congratulated me, and so I congratulated myself. ‘Thank you Ernie, you did a wonderful job.’ “