Late Friday night, Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks passed away at the age of 83 years old. He lived a long, healthy, happy, and successful life. He served the U.S. military for a few years, won two MVP awards, the admiration of every baseball person in the world, even those of us who weren’t born until 23 years after he played his last game, earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, and will be remembered as the greatest player in the long history of the Chicago Cubs.
The story of his ending up in Chicago, let alone baseball, is remarkable. He grew up in Dallas, and preferred swimming, basketball, and football to baseball. His dad got him a glove for cheap, and effectively bribed him to play more baseball with him. When he graduated from high school, he was a star athlete, lettering in basketball, football, and track, not baseball. Why? Because there was no baseball team at his high school. He played for a semi-pro baseball team called the Amarillo Colts. He was discovered by a scout from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League, the same team that Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson played for. It is disputed who from the Monarchs found him. Some say Bill Blair, some say the legendary Cool Papa Bell. Regardless of who found him, he joined them, played until he was drafted into the military. After his service was over, he played more with the Monarchs until Buck O’Neil convinced the management of the Chicago Cubs to sign him in 1953. While Ernie was reluctant to go, he did. He became a hero for Cubs fans. He was a consistently great player with a positive disposition. He would be seen after the game with a smile on his face saying, “Let’s play two!” He loved baseball so much that he never really wanted to leave the field. He played his heart out on the field every time and is still loved by the city of Chicago.
His baseball accomplishments speak for themselves. In 19 years, he was a 14 time all star, a gold glover, a 2 time NL MVP in 1958 and 1959, hit 512 home runs, was voted to MLB’s All Century Team, and was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 1977. He is one of the greatest players of all time. Yet he will always be remembered for his disposition. He was among the most positive and happy men to play baseball. He will be remembered as a great model of class and sportsmanship. His most famous quote, “Let’s play two!” is inscribed on his statue, which I got to see when I went to Wrigley field over the summer. I admire Ernie Banks, because he is a reminder of the good of baseball. Even when no baseball is being played, he screams of tradition, enthusiasm, and the warmth of the summer sun. When I heard this news, I was with a friend who is a Cubs fan, and the person I spent the day at Wrigley Field with. I feel bad for the Cubs organization and his family after Ernie’s passing. While the Cubs haven’t done a ton right in recent years, they can do a fantastic thing this year by honoring Ernie with a successful campaign this year.
Rest in peace Mr. Cub.