Let's play two for Mr. Cub.
January 23, 2015 8:46 PM   Subscribe

I met Ernie Banks in the early 90s at, of all places, an L.A. Clippers game. I remember thinking that we should all be so lucky as to have had his life and outlook and attitude.

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:53 PM on January 23, 2015

posted by Pope Guilty at 8:54 PM on January 23, 2015

posted by drezdn at 9:00 PM on January 23, 2015

posted by ZeusHumms at 9:02 PM on January 23, 2015

posted by clavdivs at 9:11 PM on January 23, 2015

posted by LobsterMitten at 9:12 PM on January 23, 2015

Ernie Banks was God for me at 11.

posted by hwestiii at 9:13 PM on January 23, 2015

Should be "Let's play three"...
posted by hwestiii at 9:14 PM on January 23, 2015

|  14  |
posted by eriko at 9:24 PM on January 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

Some people should just live forever. Fred Rogers and Roger Ebert are on my short list, and Ernie Banks is now as well.
posted by Curious Artificer at 9:31 PM on January 23, 2015

Surprised by how affected I am by this. Grew up a Pirates fan but always liked Banks, and when I moved to Chicago in the '80s it was immediately evident what he meant to the city. A town short on team glory embraced Banks for the joy and happiness he exuded, always. There was a debate about the word "beloved" as it relates to athletes in the Serena thread. Banks embodied what it meant.
posted by stargell at 9:59 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Man, all my favorite baseball Ernies are dying off. First Harwell, now Banks. This sucks.
posted by axiom at 10:21 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by davros42 at 10:43 PM on January 23, 2015

posted by LeLiLo at 10:45 PM on January 23, 2015

Joe Posnanski on Ernie Banks (and his mentorship by Buck O'Neil)

This line from the end of the story, about the end of a double-header in Houston (pre-Astrodome, when they played in crazy heat and Ernie passed out after the first game):

“Beautiful day, Ernie?” Buck asked him in the clubhouse after the doubleheader and he had this mischievous smile on his face. Banks was crumpled by his locker and he was so exhausted and drained by the heat that he could barely look up. But then he too smiled.

“They’re all beautiful days, Buck,” he said. “Just that some days are more beautiful than others.”

Also, he was a Korean War vet, a Harlem Globetrotter, and integrated the Cubs.

A dot isn't enough for some people.
posted by dry white toast at 10:48 PM on January 23, 2015 [13 favorites]

posted by ursus_comiter at 11:07 PM on January 23, 2015

Chicagoan and Cub fan here. He was my favorite Cub.
posted by persona au gratin at 11:08 PM on January 23, 2015

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:16 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm a little surprised, not in that he was in his eighties, but that a recent article described meeting him in his office (in the Wrigley Building of course), and he sounded pretty sprightly.

Or maybe I just wanted to assume that he would live forever

Lifelong Cubs fan checking in as well here.
posted by C.A.S. at 12:46 AM on January 24, 2015

posted by 724A at 12:59 AM on January 24, 2015

Every Hall of Famer's entry for Ernie Banks
posted by mokin at 1:04 AM on January 24, 2015

posted by Thorzdad at 4:38 AM on January 24, 2015

posted by Ridiculous Dolphin at 5:01 AM on January 24, 2015

posted by lord_wolf at 5:03 AM on January 24, 2015

I'm not a Cubs fan in any way whatsoever, but I consider one of the greatest days of my life that day I got to meet and shake hands with Ernie Banks.

posted by Sphinx at 5:08 AM on January 24, 2015

posted by Smart Dalek at 5:09 AM on January 24, 2015

What a beloved player and gentleman he was. RIP
posted by grimjeer at 5:12 AM on January 24, 2015

posted by How the runs scored at 5:31 AM on January 24, 2015

I never met the man. I got to see him play, just a couple of times at Wrigley, a zillion billion times on WGN. I was still deep in the love of baseball throughout his entire career. To see Ernie Banks, it made me happy. It still pretty much does, those old pictures -- what a beautiful man. That smile.

I'm 60. Baseball was still The Great American Religion when I was a kid, hard for anyone young to understand today how important it all seemed. Of course it didn't seem important to me then; it was important. Vital. Being a Cubs fan truly a sickness, perhaps passed genetically, one generation to the next, and not skipping any generations, either. It's taken me decades to rid myself of it, such as one can rid oneself of it; 1969 and 1984, those years, they are dark stains on my soul. It was like getting beaten with hammers. I fucking hate the Mets. The Mets suck. They Mets will always suck. I hate them. The Padres, they aren't even worth hating. They are venereal warts. They totally lucked into The Cubs Curse. They suck.


Two of my sisters and I, kids, we got to ride the train into the city, then catch the El to Wrigley, just a few times, certainly not enough. It was exciting, all of it; the train ride, then the clattering, rollicking El, and then there it was: Wrigley. And now we're negotiating tickets, not good ones because we were poor but any ticket into Wrigley Field is a good one, and now we're entering the stadium, and following this sign or that one, being directed by this usher or the other one, sometimes through a slant or a gap getting to see The Field. And then walking out, and seeing The Field -- it really was religious. I'm sure that reads lame but that's what it was.

Watching some of those videos of Ernie, at Wrigley, it brings it all back for me, maybe like if an atheist walked scornful into the church or the temple that once meant so much and recalled, maybe even felt the pull, the sweetness of his dead faith.

My sisters and I. We'd always get to Wrigley in time to see batting practice -- how wonderful it was to see these gods casually smacking baseballs around, joking with one another, maybe working with a coach on this piece of the game, or that other piece. You'd see this guy and that one stretching a hamstring maybe, or running sprints, we'd see Real Live Pitchers and Catchers warming slowly, easily, playing catch, and see outfielders lazily throwing baseballs around probably faster and absolutely further than my bb gun could shoot a bb -- it's still pretty amazing to me, to see outfielders throwing a ball around, in real life. If you've never been to a game, and get a chance to go to one, it's worth dropping a few bucks and a few hours, even if just to see outfielders play catch. It's really impressive. And hey, who knows -- most baseball games are about as interesting as watching paint dry, except slower, but you might luck into seeing a spectacular athleticism or two. It happens.

After batting practice, the ground crews get it into gear, manicuring The Field, putting down the chalk lines. Anticipation building, lots more people now filing into the park...

Banks. If baseball was religion, Banks was at the very least a saint to our eyes, to our hearts. There's Ernie Banks, he's smiling -- all is right in the world. Number 14 -- today I know baseball is jive but the number 14, blue against white -- it's in my dumb damn heart. Billy Williams, he was in on It also, maybe more of a minor saint, he was always right there but he never got in on the really good stuff; it was always Ernie trying to raise the Cubs from the dead, and Ernie always made the fish and the wine and stuff and Billy Williams, he got to just make the bread maybe, or like maybe Ernie made the bread too but gave Billy Williams the credit, and we all worshiped, calling out their names. Something like that.

We definitely worshiped.

Remember how Catholics used to have those little guys on the dashboards of their cars, talismans, reminders of Good, providers of Protection, and Love -- remember that? Probably I'd have put one of those things on the dashboard of my car, if I'd had a car when I was 9, except it'd have been Ernie Banks -- Beatific Ernie Banks, Beneficent Ernie Banks, His bat held in that high, distinctive manner, pointing up at the rear-view mirror there, poised for that sweet swing. Ernie had such a beautiful swing.

But he was beautiful all around, Ernie was, physically and every other damn way. He made it look easy to be beautiful but no man has every day as a good day unless it's a choice, conscious, focused, driven. Tell me Banks never wanted to tell Leo Durocher to go fuck himself, tell me Banks never wanted to use that natural swing to bonk Durocher in the face. I guess Durocher was a piece of cake for Banks, his personality long-before forged by breaking through the racism with not just a poker face but a smile. A smile and a wave. "Let's play two!" Jesus christ. How the hell does he pull that off? Hell of a man. One hell of a human being.

If I recall correctly, he caught a lot of flack from younger black players, toward the end of his playing career, flack for saying "Hey, let's play two!" instead of saying "Hey, we're going to sleep in the same hotels as the white players or we're not playing even one game, much less two, you racist fucks." Banks was caught in changing times. As I recall the reading of it, he rolled with it well -- Banks rolled with everything well it seems -- but it had to hurt. Or, rather, it would certainly have hurt most people. With Ernie, who knows? I bet he'd never say.

I'm grateful that the internet lets us see a great copy of Ernie Banks 1960 baseball card.


Bill Bryson got to spend a short amount of time with Ernie Banks when he was a kid; Bryson Sr. was a sports writer for a paper in Iowa, he got to go with his father to lots of different ball parks and meet lots of stars and just generally have a childhood most 50s boys could just dream of, at least in that respect.

Here's Bryson:
Once on a hot July afternoon I sat in a nearly airless clubhouse under the left–field grandstand at Wrigley Field beside Ernie Banks, the Cubs’ great shortstop, as he autographed boxes of new white baseballs (which are, incidentally, one of the most pleasurably aromatic things on earth, and worth spending time around anyway). Unbidden, I took it upon myself to sit beside him and pass him each new ball. This slowed the process considerably, but he gave a little smile each time and said thank you as if I had done him quite a favor. He was the nicest human being I have ever met. It was like being friends with God. ...

My greatest moment as a human being was one day I got to sit in the Cubs clubhouse where Ernie Banks was autographing baseballs and I got to hand them to him. ...


I sure didn't intend to write all of this but hey, it's Ernie Banks. It hooked me. The man played big in my life, seems he still does. I couldn't just come in here and put a period down and go on my way. The man pivoted his life into lots of peoples hearts, clearly he got into mine.

Thanks for all of those smiles, Mr. Banks, and the happinesses you brought to so many.

posted by dancestoblue at 5:57 AM on January 24, 2015 [17 favorites]

The Cubs finished fifth in the National League with a record of 72–82. (1958)
The Cubs tied the Cincinnati Reds for fifth in the National League with a record of 74–80. (1959)

In Banks' MVP years he was by far the best player in the National League. Guys on losing teams rarely win MVP awards. Also before the knee injuries he was the best shortstop in baseball. An amazing player and it's amazing how much affection he inspired. The Mister Rogers comparison is apt.
posted by bukvich at 6:30 AM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

He loved playing baseball.

posted by tommasz at 6:47 AM on January 24, 2015

posted by Cash4Lead at 7:10 AM on January 24, 2015

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:20 AM on January 24, 2015

Someone on Twitter suggested that the Cubs make September 17th (the day he debuted for the Cubs in1953) Ernie Banks Day and play an annual home doubleheader on that day.

posted by Rock Steady at 8:27 AM on January 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

posted by Reverend John at 8:30 AM on January 24, 2015

I miss him already. Met him twice at baseball card shows in the early '80s, and he was always the nicest person.

posted by Jubal Kessler at 8:40 AM on January 24, 2015

By the shores of old Lake Michigan
Where the hawk wind blows so cold
An old Cub fan lay dying
In his midnight hour, the toll

Around his bed, his friends had all gathered
They knew his time was short
On his head, this put this bright blue cap
From his all-time favorite sport

Told 'em, "It's late, and it's getting dark in here
And I know it's time to go
But before I leave the lineup
Boys, there's just one thing that I'd like to know

"Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around?
When the snow melts away, do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground?

"When I was a boy, they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave, the land of the free
And the doormat of the National League"

He told his friends, "You know, the law of averages
Says anything will happen that can," that's what it says
"But the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant
Was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan

"The Cubs made me a criminal, sent me down a wayward path
They stole my youth from me, that's the truth
I'd forsake my teachers to go sit in the bleachers
In flagrant truancy

"And then one thing led to another
And soon I discovered alcohol, gambling, dope
Football, hockey, lacrosse, tennis
But what do you expect?

"When you raise up a young boy's hopes
And then just crush 'em like so many paper beer cups
Year after year after year
After year after year after year after year after year
Till those hopes are just so much popcorn
For the pigeons beneath the 'L' tracks to eat"

He said, "You know, I'll never see Wrigley Field anymore
Before my eternal rest
So if you have your pencils and your scorecards ready
Then I'll read you my last request"

He said, "Give me a doubleheader funeral in Wrigley Field
On some sunny weekend day (no lights)
Have the organ play the National Anthem
And then a little 'Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye'

"Make six bullpen pitchers carry my coffin
And six groundskeepers clear my path
Have the umpires bark me out at every base
In all their holy wrath

"It's a beautiful day for a funeral
Hey, Ernie, let's play two
Somebody go get Jack Brickhouse to come back
And conduct just one more interview

"Have the Cubbies run right out into the middle of the field
Have Keith Moreland drop a routine fly
Give everybody two bags of peanuts and a frosty malt, and
And I'll be ready to die

"Build a big fire on home plate out of your Louisville Slugger baseball bats
And toss my coffin in
Let my ashes blow in a beautiful snow
From the prevailing thirty-mile-an-hour southwest wind

"And when my last remains go flying over the left field wall
We'll bid the bleacher bums adieu
I will come to my final resting place
Out on Waveland Avenue"

The dying man's friends told him to cut it out
They said, "Stop it" and "That's an awful shame"
He whispered, "Don't cry, we'll meet by and by
Near the heavenly hall of fame"

He said, "I've got season's tickets to watch the Angels now
So it's just what I'm gonna do"
He said, "But you the living, you're stuck here with the Cubs
So it's me who feels sorry for you"

And he said, "Oh, play, play that 'Lonesome Losers' tune
That's the one I like the best"
Closed his eyes and slipped away
Well, Scotty, it was the dying Cub fan's last request, so here it is

"Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around?
When the snow melts away, do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground?

"When I was a boy, they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave, the land of the free
And the doormat of the National League"

-- Steve Goodman

posted by tzikeh at 11:44 AM on January 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

Can't add much to what's been said. I had the great pleasure to watch Ernie at Wrigley many times. Let me add this sweet quote.

"The only way to prove that you're a good sport is to lose."

Ernie Banks
posted by charlesminus at 4:30 PM on January 24, 2015


Lifelong Cubs fan here.
posted by bibliogrrl at 6:02 PM on January 24, 2015

He was the first hero I had. I didn't understand the battles he had to fight to actually be my hero until I was much older, but I watched him playing for the Cubs. I saw him play at Wrigley Field.

I'm torn. Half of me says it would be wrong for the Cubs to win it all this year -- the year that Mr. Cub is gone -- and half of me says they *must* win it all this year.

I don't know. But I've been in Wrigley on a June day. The breeze was blowing. The sun was out. It was a beautiful day.

Let's play two.

Goodbye, Mr. Banks, and thank you.
posted by eriko at 10:26 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the Steve Goodman comment. He was best friends with a family member, they grew up together and used to go to Wrigley together back in the day. I played his old Guild for a couple of years.

I love these comments about the magic of being a Cubs fan. WGN. Harry Carey and Jack Brickhouse. Day games. Ivy.

I hope renovations and potential success don't change what it means to be a Cubs fan, but I don't think it would.

I also came of age when it was a bit of a religion, I remember my first trip to Wrigley at age 4. And now, though my sons live in London, they have started their trips to Wrigley at age 4 as well. And this year we all went to a fantastic win over the Orioles on a fine summer day, and I brought my 18 year old British nephew to experience what he's only heard about second hand. We sat in the sun, and a group of elderly ladies on a day trip out to the ballpark surrounded us, and I might have made a convert.

Bill Murray is an internet meme now, but I absolutely love this speech he made in which he perfectly describes exactly how lifelong Cubs fandom happens at 2:16.

Bill Murray HOF speech, on first trip to Wrigley
posted by C.A.S. at 2:36 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by Gelatin at 6:26 AM on January 26, 2015

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