Six years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, the Chicago Cubs still didn’t have an African-American player on their roster. Change came slowly to baseball, but the roster was about to change with the addition of the man who would become the most beloved player in franchise history.
Now, Ernie Banks’ first professional baseball contract, one that landed him a $275 per month job with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues in 1950, is coming to auction.
The four-page document is among the items that will be offered in Heritage Auctions’ Summer Platinum Night sale.
In 1950, Banks was a 19-year-old former church league fast pitch softball player who caught the eye of scouts while playing for a semi-pro baseball team based in Amarillo, TX. His ability and his attitude earned him an offer from the Monarchs. After a two-year military stint during the Korean War, Banks returned to the Monarchs in 1953 and his contract was eventually sold to the Cubs. In September of that year, he became the team’s first Black player to appear in a game. He would stay in the majors until 1971, hitting 512 home runs. He still holds Cubs team records for games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), extra-base hits (1,009) and total bases (4,706).
Banks may have been young when he joined the team but became a favorite of legendary players Cool Papa Bell and Buck O’Neil both for his promising ability and how he carried himself. The second oldest of 12 children raised by Eddie and Essie Banks, Ernie took to coaching and was serious about improving.
“His conduct was almost as outstanding as his ability,” Bell once said of his pupil.
“Playing for the Kansas City Monarchs was like my school, my learning, my world,” Banks would say years later. “It was my whole life.”
The contract is signed “Ernest Banks” in green ink. It stipulates he’d be paid on the 1st and 15th of each month for a season that began April 30 and concluded September 4.
The document carries a $30,000 pre-sale estimate and is part of a large collection of Banks’ personal items in the auction. Bidding is set to open July 28.