“It’s a beautiful day, let’s play two.”
Did any words sum up the joy and optimism of sports better than the simple mantra of “Mr. Cub” – Ernie Banks – who passed away yesterday?
Banks was playing in the “friendly confines of Wrigley Field” for the first major league baseball game I ever saw in person, against the eventual world-champion St. Louis Cardinals in 1964. The Cubs of my youth were awful. Heck, the Cubs of my entire life (and several other lifetimes) have been pretty much awful. But Banks was eternally optimistic about the club’s chances. As President Obama said when presenting Banks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, Ernie’s cheer and optimism that the Cubs would go all the way was “… serious belief. That is something that even a White Sox fan like me can respect.”
Banks was the original power-hitting shortstop and one of the first African-American stars in the major leagues. If ever there is a case to be made for asterisks in the record book, it is the fact that Banks held the record for most home runs in a season and a career by a shortstop, until they were “broken” (or stolen) by Alex Rodriquez.
I was a Willie Mays fan, but I always loved watching Banks play. Thanks for the memories, Ernie, and the reminder of how infectious optimism can be. Rest in peace, Mr. Cub.
More to come…
P.S. – The day after I originally posted this, Thomas Boswell had a very thoughtful column about Banks’ impact on his life. Recommended.