While having my first few sips of coffee early Saturday morning I went to the CNN app on my iPhone….top story headline read ‘Mr. Cub Ernie Banks dies in Chicago at 83’…my heart sank. Growing up in Chicago in the fifties, sixties or even the early seventies you’ll understand how this headline would be a sucker punch to the stomach. And even if you were one of those Chicagoan’s who mistakenly rooted for the Sox over the Cubs this news was sure to sting. Ernie Banks represented an era of baseball, and for that matter professional sports, when the game is what mattered most, not the fame and money, and with him that era died. Always the consummate professional Mr. Cub represented all that was good about baseball.
There are so many memories tied to the love of the Cubbies from my days growing up in Chicago….memories that are not learned but are in your DNA. As long suffering fans we can’t help ourselves when, at the beginning of each season, we know deep down that this will be “our” year. What kid in Chicago didn’t want Ernie’s #14 sewn onto his home made jersey while playing baseball in the alley, an alley barely wide enough for a single car to pass, but for us it was like playing at Wrigley Field. And what about those Saturday afternoon games at Wrigley with your dad, sitting in the right field stands or, if by some luck, box seats on the first base line so you can see Ernie work his magic at first. Unfortunately I’m too young to remember when Ernie shined as the greatest short stop of all time until Cal Ripken Jr. came along. And if you were there, as I fortunately was, who can forget Ernie Banks Day at Wrigley in the late sixties when Ernie hit a home run and the place went wild (“hey-hey”)!
So if you’re not from Chicago you may ask what made Ernie Banks such a great player? His stats speak for his role on the field (see below) but his personality speaks to him as a role model. His passion was playing baseball, having a good time doing so, putting on a great show for his audience and making himself available to the fans. He never shied away from a handshake, never ended a game not wanting to “play two” and never started a season without a motto; “The Cubs are great in sixty-eight”, “The Cubs will shine in sixty-nine”. He always had a smile on his face, a good word to say about his fellow players and the optimism that the Cubbies had a chance at the pennant. He was just a good guy.
Since his death just hours ago so many great articles have been written by real writers…here are links to some of my favorites.