Ernie Banks died yesterday at the age of 83. He is the greatest Chicago Cubs player that has ever lived, and there is a very good chance he will go down as the greatest Chicago Cub ever.
Mr. Banks was the first African American to play for the Cubs. Through his talent, wit, humor and wonderful disposition, Mr. Cub always made baseball seem good and pure. All the while, he also made it seem to be noble, honorable, and a passion worth pursuing. And this passion was not just for players, but for fans alike.
Ernie Banks was simply a damn good human being.
In his 83 years on this planet, nary a bad word was spoken of him. He had all the talent of a wunderkind and the hope of a child. This combination did him well, and helped him become one of the most beloved figures in the history of baseball. That is not an overstatement. At best, it is a severe understatement.
Ernie Banks made Wrigley Field … Wrigley Field. He made the Cubs … the Cubs. Later in his career he was joined by a Mr. Williams and a Mr. Santo, and all the while, the three of them, with help from others, started to give the Cubs character.
Their fervent love for the franchise has been evident for a half-century, and their true hope for a champion has never been disguised.
Ernie was, in fact, like all of us fans, but, at the same time, not at all.
He played for the Kansas City Monarchs and dealt with racism none of us want to know or understand. The truth is we have no idea what he overcame. Yet, he persevered. He did not let these unbelievable challenges sway him from his mission.
He moved to Chicago, became an all-star many times over, and kept fighting. He never gave up.
In an era now marked by salaries, sabermetrics, and a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society, Ernie Banks continued to believe and preach about the greatness of baseball. Not a day went by where he was not noticed or thanked. He embraced who he was and what he accomplished, but never did he act like he knew better.
He was Ernie … Ernie Banks. He looked like a lot of our fathers and grandfathers. He was a simple man with simple pleasures who just wanted to play baseball and watch baseball. He loved this great game.
And play baseball he did, to the tune of 512 homeruns and multiple gold gloves. Yet Mr. Banks will not be wholly remembered for what he did on the field. He will also be remembered for what he did when he left the field. He never stopped talking about the greatness of baseball, of the Cubs, and of his revered and respected teammates.
Major League Baseball no longer schedules double-headers on purpose. They are there for the rain delay, the lightning delay, the tarp delay, and the postponed game. Yet, back in the day, doubleheaders were normal, and they were enjoyed.
Ernie Banks had one chance at life, like we all do, but he managed to make his one opportunity and his one existence so much more than just baseball. He continued to ignite this great game with his passion, his love and his devotion.
Ernie Banks may be gone from this earth, but I have a very good feeling he will be back again soon.
No one ever asked for a second chance like he did.
Let’s play two!
Godspeed, Ernie Banks.
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