Enters Negro Leagues
That summer, when Amarillo played the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the premier teams in black baseball, Banks caught the eye of Monarchs's manager James 'Cool Papa' Bell. Bell brought Banks onto the Monarchs after he graduated from high school in 1950. At the end of the season, he barnstormed on a team with Jackie Robinson, who said he thought Banks could make it in the majors. Although Robinson had integrated baseball two years earlier, the thought of playing with a big league ball club had never entered Banks' mind. He spent the 1951 and 1952 seasons in the U.S. Army. When he returned to the Monarchs in 1953 the Negro Leagues were on their last legs. Most of their best players had jumped to the majors. An ankle injury led Banks to give up baseball in the middle of the 1953 season, but days later Monarchs manager Buck O'Neil persuaded him to finish the season with the team. Banks did not know it, but the Chicago Cubs-and several other teams-had told the Monarchs they were interested in his services. After a game in Chicago, O'Neil took Banks to Wrigley Field, the Cubs' ballpark. There Cubs general manager Wid Matthews informed Banks he would be joining the team. The Cubs had bought Banks' contract from the Monarchs for $10,000.
Banks played 10 games with the Cubs at the end of the 1953 season, hitting .314 and getting 2 home runs. Another black player, Gene Baker, had joined the Cubs before Banks. But Banks got into a game first and became the first African-American to play for the team. Even with his sunny disposition, it was not easy for Banks as the first black on a team in the early 1950s. "For awhile, it was like I was there, but I wasn't there," Banks revealed to the Post-Dispatch. "I was there to play and do what I had to do on the field. We talked and laughed on the train rides and we played together, but we lived apart. When games were over, me and Gene headed home to the [black] south side of the city and the other players all went north."