“Let’s Play Two”: Farewell To Ernie Banks

Ernie_Banks.jpg-10326I have previously written about my childhood sports hero Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks. It is therefore particularly sad to write of his death this weekend at the age of 83. “Mr. Cub” had 512 career home runs in 19 major league seasons and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977. He was also selected to baseball’s All-Century team in 1999. He retired in 1971.

As I have previously written, I met Banks as a kid and I used to hang around outside of Wrigley with my friends to catch the balls that he hit over the wall. We would have gloves and transistor radios to our ears while dodging cars in the road to catch a Banks hit. I met him a couple times because he lived near us on the Northside. I would never trade any of our Banks cards from the gum packages. I must have had a dozen of them.

Banks was the ultimate old school sports hero. He did not charge for autographs and was always chatting with adults and kids alike at Wrigley. He was not the “bad boy” party animal or the high-strung celebrity athlete that you too often see today. He was civil and kind and a great role model for my friends and I growing up. When we would see him in the neighborhood, he would stop and talk to us about what we were up to. I adored him. His enthusiasm was captured in what became his catchphrase (and that of Wrigley): “It’s a great day for baseball. Let’s play two!”

There are still athletes in the Banks mold. I would include people like Robert Griffin III in that league according to people who have met him, particularly with children. However, Banks was something special for us on the Northside of Chicago.

Banks began to play for the Negro leagues at 17 and began his professional career briefly for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues (he played one season before going into the Army). While he would return to the Monarchs, he was soon pick up for $10,000 by the Cubs. He played shortstop and first base.

When I heard of Banks’ death, I immediately thought of those summer days with my friends listening to our transmitter radios with our mitts in hand outside of Wrigley and waiting for a Banks hit to come soaring over the wall. I can still smell the gum in the baseball card packages that we would buy across the street and rip open on the curb. Banks was all part of that. He was part of us. Sure, we often never cracked .500 as a team and everyone called us the “lovable losers” but we had Ernie Banks. And that was more than enough.

Source: Fox

13 thoughts on ““Let’s Play Two”: Farewell To Ernie Banks”

  1. I am making a trip from New Orleans to Chicago and one stop is Wrigley Field. This is set for June so the games will be being played. On the back South I am staying in Ferguson for a month to meet up with some of the locals. There is an integrated bar there where people “get along” as that Rodney King guy said.

  2. ChipS, Great anecdote. Just the fact that Ernie was @ that public course says a lot. Walked by there many times during my Chicago tenure. Thankfully, King Daley didn’t just decide to close it one night!

  3. I always felt bad for Ernie Banks that he never got to go to the World Series and he was the most Loyal player there ever was.

  4. I met Ernie B. at the Diversey Harbor driving range. He was just there by himself–no entourage–and it wasn’t clear that the ball-bangers there recognized him. So I just walked up and said hi and we had a nice chat about the Cubs’ prospects for the season.

    Seemed exactly the way people describe him. A down-to-earth superstar, if there can be such a thing.

  5. Great player. Great person. Great American.

    He is the quintessential Chicagoan. You know. A loser.

  6. hinky, Stan was indeed of the same class as Banks. I highly recommend George Vescey’s, Stan Musial: An American Life. You will like him even more. What bothers me is that while there are some superb bio’s on Musial, Joe D., Williams, Aaron, Mays etc. there is not one on Banks. What makes Banks statistics so remarkable, and baseball is the game of stats, is that he played on horrible teams. At times he had good players like Billy Williams and Santo to provide some protection, but in large part he had nobody else to keep pitchers honest and pitch to him. But, getting back to your comparison, what links Stan and Ernie together is their enthusiasm and kindness. Williams and Joe D were marginally greater players, but they were deeply unhappy men, w/ very dark sides. Shaking Ernie Banks hand told me all I needed to know. That ebullient spirit you saw on camera was not an act. Seeing Stan play his beloved harmonica, talking w/ folks who have met Stan, and then reading his bio, tells one he too is the real deal. All that said, we learned after the death of Kirby Puckett that the bubbly, teddy bear persona was a lie. I am really good @ reading people, but I can be fooled. There will eventually be a substantive bio of Ernie Banks. I sure hope it doesn’t break our hearts.

    For baseball fans, there is a connection to the player from our youth that transcends the game. It touches on more than just baseball. It connects us to our father’s, mother’s, siblings, friends, uncles, aunts, etc. I grew up in a bifurcated family. My father’s family, Italian and Yankee fans. My mother’s, Irish and Red Sox. In the battleground state of Ct., there is a civil war every summer. But, my dad and my great uncle Pat on my mom’s side taught me something much greater than baseball. They taught me you didn’t have to hate the other teams fans. My Uncle and dad busted on each other, but it was always good natured. My uncle Pat would take me out onto the front step of his very blue collar home on summer evenings to listen to Red Sox baseball. Curt Gowdy was their broadcaster. I got to listen to him call Williams @ bats as well as some other great Red Sox. With my dad, it was listening to Mel Allen and later, Red Barber and Phil Rizzuto calling games. I am quite certain JT listenedd to Jack Brickhouse calling Cub games and those memories bring a smile.

  7. There is one player that can be mentioned in the same sentence as Ernie Banks, and that is Stan Musial who we lost two years ago. I had the honor of seeing both as players. Ernie and Stan were class acts and the definition of what a sports hero should be.

  8. He will be missed.

    However, please don’t put RG3 in the same sentence with Ernie Banks. RG3 will never become the player that everyone thought he would be. He is a horrible teammate and QB.

  9. “He never complained about his team’s bad luck or bad talent, never stopped playing the game with joy, never stopped giving his all, never lost his proud demeanor, and never acted like anything but a winner. He was a symbol of the Cub fan’s undiminished resilience. If he could be happy to come to the park each afternoon, then so could we.” – Joe Mantegna

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