THE CLASS OF 2017
Ernie Banks was known as “Mr. Cub”, not only for his outstanding performance on the field, but also for his sunny disposition.
A native of Dallas, Texas, Ernie was signed by famed scout Buck O'Neil to play for the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs at age 18. After a two-year stint in the Army he returned to the Monarchs, quickly gaining the attention of big-league scouts. Signed by Chicago in 1953, Ernie played his entire big-league career for the Cubs, a career that saw him win back-to-back National League MVP awards in 1958 and 1959. Ernie's career totals of 512 home runs and 2,583 hits earned him a first ballot election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.
During his playing career Ernie was part of the Cactus League for 17 Major League seasons, training with the Cubs in both Mesa, and Scottsdale. He'll always be remembered by baseball fans for his infectious smile and ever present phrase - "Let's play two!”
Larry Doby was already a star baseball player with the Negro League Newark Eagles and had served a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II when Bill Veeck signed him to play for the Cleveland Indians in July of 1947.
Doby was the first Negro League player to go directly to the Major Leagues and the first African-American player in the American League, debuting 81 days after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. In the spring of 1948 Larry became the first African-American to play in Arizona’s Cactus League.
Playing centerfield in the 1948 World Series Doby hit .318 and belted the deciding home run in Game 4, helping the Indians take the title in six games. He was a seven-time All-Star, leading the American League in home runs twice, finishing his 12-year Big League career with 253 home runs. Larry Doby was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.
Signed by the New York Giants, outfielder Monte Irvin was among the first four players to integrate spring training baseball in Arizona, making his major league debut in July of 1949. By the time Monte signed with the Giants he was already a bona fide four-time all-star in the Negro Leagues and two-time Negro National League batting champion.
Irvin played for the New York Giants from 1949-1955 and spent five spring training seasons with the team in Phoenix. He also spent one spring season at Mesa’s Rendezvous Park with the Chicago Cubs in 1956. Irvin enjoyed his best season with the Giants in 1951 hitting .312 with 24 home runs and a National League leading 121 RBI. Monte played for two NL pennant-winning clubs (1951 and 1954) and one World Series champion (1954). Irvin became Major League Baseball’s first African-American executive when hired to the commissioner’s office in 1968. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973 by the Special Committee on Negro Leagues.
The greatest Giant of them all Willie Mays, will always be considered among baseball’s best all-around players. “The Say Hey Kid” was a five-tool player before the term existed excelling in all aspects of the game, Mays could hit for average and power, run, throw and play defense as well if not better than any of his contemporaries and few before or since.
Mays won the National League’s first Gold Glove Award in 1957 and a record tying 12 consecutive in the ensuing years to follow. Mays was just the fourth African-American player signed by the New York Giants, the 17th in major league history, and was among the pioneering players to integrate spring training baseball in Arizona joining the Giants in Phoenix prior to his first full season in 1952.
The first major-league player to hit 50 home runs and steal 20 bases in the same season, Mays was also the first member of the National League’s 30/30 club (30 HRs and 30 steals in the same season) a feat that he accomplished in back-to-back seasons in 1956 and 1957.
At the time of his retirement Mays ranked third in home runs (660), runs scored (2,062) and total bases (6,066) and was among the top 10 in hits (3,283), RBI (1,903) and first in putouts by an outfielder (7,095). He won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1951 and the league MVP award in 1954 and 1965.