LET’S PLAY TWO: REMEMBERING ERNIE BANKS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was “off the grid” the last couple of days fighting a nasty cold that won’t say uncle. So I missed the news. Very sad news if you’re a baseball fan from the days when the grass was really green and there were only 16 teams in the Major Leagues.

Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub aka Mr. Baseball, the REAL Mr. Baseball, passed away.

banks-vintage

Banks was 83. To his final days, he was an ambassador for baseball wherever he went. “Let’s play two,” was Ernie’s famous life long catch phrase. He meant it. He played baseball when a doubleheader was a normal, regularly scheduled event in “the bigs.”

Ernie Banks wore uniform number 14. He was the face of the Chicago Cubs for 19 years. But he was that rare star who was appreciated WHEREVER he played. Banks was a lanky, power hitting shortstop decades before Cal Ripken was credited for redefining that position. As an avid Brooklyn Dodgers’ fan, I appreciated the Cubs’ “gold-dust twins”. Ernie Banks at shortstop and Gene Baker at second base.

Most eyes were on Jackie Robinson in the early 50’s as baseball continued to grapple with integration. Quietly, with minimal fanfare, Ernie Banks was also leading the way while enduring racial epithets in many cities. He smiled while Jackie often raged. Some in the Civil Rights movement suggested Banks was an “Uncle Tom” because he wasn’t more outspoken. But there was nothing timid about Mr. Banks.

“I let my bat, glove and resolve do the talking,” Ernie Banks told me in a 1962 interview. We talked in the visitor’s dugout of the old Polo Grounds, the initial home of the fledgling New York Mets baseball team. Banks’ eyes scanned the ancient ball park, remembering his early days along with that of Robinson, young Willie Mays and others who broke baseball’s color line.

Ernie Banks told me the racial strife and discord took a back seat to his love for baseball and the opportunity to play in the major leagues. He smiled when reminded of the joke that he loved baseball so much that he would play for food and board. The smile rendered that joke obsolete for me.

Ernie Banks compiled 512 home runs in an era when pitchers were dominant. He was an 11 time all-star, inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility and presented with the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2013.

Banks Ernie Plaque 142_NBL_0I still remember Banks’ sparkling eyes as we sat in the Polo Grounds dugout and chatted about baseball and all the legends who’d played there for generations. I recall smiling to myself, thinking I was sitting next to a legend.

It’s nice to remember Mr. Baseball in this off-season when most of the chatter is about mega salaries and long-term contracts. It’s also appropriate as the Chicago Cubs seem to be on the verge of being relevant again. Cubbies — really ALL baseball fans — should celebrate the legacy of Ernie Banks. He shined during many frustrating seasons at Wrigley Field.

Let’s play two!

Ernie-Banks-medal-Obama



Categories: American history, Baseball, Garry Armstrong, In Memorium, Sports

Tags: , , , , ,

13 replies

  1. Brief as our family’s time living near Chicago was, Ernie Banks will always remain one of my fondest and earliest memories of baseball, Chicago, and childhood summers. Thanks for this lovely eulogy. 🙂
    Kathryn

    Liked by 1 person

    • My pleasure, Kathryn. I may be wearing rose colored glasses but those baseball summers were seasons of joy and maybe lost innocence. Players actually talked to fans. Many lived in the neighborhoods of the city where their team played. We were very lucky.

      Like

  2. You were sitting with a legend. I have never forgotten about Ernie Banks, the player and the man.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I met Ernie Banks on a few occasions. He was as nice as he seemed. For as long as I can remember, he was the most popular Chicago Cub in town. Everyone loved Ernie, even White Sox fans. Now that’s saying something.
    He disarmed prejudice with a smile and a positive attitude. He led by example. He supported local charities and was the most popular guy at Chicago Cub events. Everyone in town wanted to shake his hand, get his autograph or just see him smile. He never had a bad word, even about the awful teams we had.
    I saw a drawing on facebook today. Harry Carry was opening the gates of heaven. The sign said “Friendly Confines,” Ernie’s term for Wrigley Field. And Ron Santo, another extremely popular Cub, was there to meet Ernie. Ron says, “Game 2 lasts forever.” Every Cub fan who saw it had tears in his eyes. I did.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rich, Ernie Banks was that rare baseball player who touched the hearts of almost all fans and players who cared about the game. The same day I interviewed Ernie, MY hero, Duke Snider strolled over, ignored me and hugged Ernie. The Duke was not known for such public displays of affection. Such was the pull of “Mr. Cub”. I’m still trying to recall others on those early 50’s Cub teams. I used to know ALL the lineups by heart. Right now, all I have is Banks, Baker, Bob Rush, Moe Drabowskly, Solly Hemus and Harry Chiti. Hank Sauer? Back to Ernie. I ran into him several more times in the late 60’s, when I was covering the Civil Right movement. He was very visible!

      Liked by 1 person

      • He was always visible here. I don’t exactly remember the 50’s Cubs too well, too young I guess. I recall being at a 1960 Don Cardwell no hitter, Del Rice was the catcher and Walt “Moose” Moryn made a shoe string catch with two outs in the 9th to save the game.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Rich. You’ve jogged my memory. I can see Moose Moryn and some of those other guys again including Lee Walls who, I think also played for the Dodgers. George Altman did a cameo with the hapless Mets. Anyone who could breathe did cameos with Casey’s Amazin’ Mets. They were fun to watch.

          Liked by 1 person

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