Sunday, January 25, 2015

To Absent Friends - Ernie Banks

Baseball Hall of Fame member Ernie Banks died on Friday at the age of 83.

I saw my first major league baseball game in 1959.  That season was the first season in which I became aware of ball players and teams, who was good, who wasn't so good.  One player that I learned early on was good, really good, was the short stop for the Chicago Cubs, Ernie Banks.  In that 1959 season, Banks became the National League MVP for the second year in a row while playing for a seventh place team.  It took me a while in my baseball learning curve to realize just what an accomplishment that was.

We all know Banks' story.  He was a veteran of the Negro Leagues, the first African American to play for the Cubs, he hit 512 home runs, a Hall of Famer who never once played in a post season game.  No one loved the game more, as his trademark, "Let's play two" tag line indicated.  No one was a better ambassador for the game or his team, right up until the end, than was Ernie Banks.

As a Pirate fan, I remember being fearful every time Banks came to bat against that the Pirates.  In that regard, he was like other giants of his era like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.  He was that good.

And I can remember that even though he played for the "other guys" it was hard, if not impossible not to like Ernie Banks.

In looking for pictures of Banks to use for this post, it was difficult to find any picture of him, even when he was in the heat of competition in a ball game, where Banks was not smiling, was not happy just to be out on a ball field.  Quite a contrast from some of the dour guys you see out playing the game today.

As I mentioned, there was no greater ambassador for the game of baseball than Ernie Banks, and in 2013 he was so recognized by being award the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential of Freedom.

I just can't imagine how bad Cubs' fans must be feeling.

RIP Ernie Banks, and "Let's play two".

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