Cubs News

The role Buck O’Neil played in Ernie Banks becoming ‘Mr. Cub’

2 years agoAndy Martinez

Today, Ernie Banks is known for his infectious smile and charismatic personality when he was a member of the Cubs.

But that wasn’t always his character.  

As the Cubs and Major League Baseball celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues, Marquee Sports Network Films Presents ‘More Than Mr. Cub: The Life of Ernie Banks’, remembers the legacy of Banks and the role that Buck O’Neil played in it.  

Banks was discovered in Dallas by Bill Blair and began playing organized baseball in the late 1940s. Blair later contacted James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell, who came and scouted Banks, and recommended him to O’Neil, the Kansas City Monarchs manager. O’Neil signed Banks, thus beginning his professional career.

As a young player on the Monarchs, Banks was a self-described introvert.

“I didn’t care for people,” Banks once said. “Human beings were the only ones that can make life complicated and unpleasant, so I always kind of ran from human beings.”

In stepped O’Neil. As Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum said, was the epitome of “glass half-full” and helped bring that side out of Banks.  

“This man [O’Neil] kinda brought that out,” Banks said. “I was just so thrilled to have someone, like him, to show that interest in me and I just fell in love with the game of baseball and it was my whole life and it was because of this young man.”

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