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Ernie Banks Photo Gallery
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Tribute To Ernie Banks (January 31, 1931- January 23, 2015)
It’s hard to put to words the impact Ernie Banks had on the life of a five-year-old kid growing up on the north side of Chicago back in the 1950’s just starting out on a life-long love affair with baseball.
One of my earliest – and fondest – recollections in life is sitting on my grandfather’s lap on lazy summer Sunday afternoons watching the Cubs play a double-header on the old “black and white” with Jack Brickhouse calling the game. I can still remember my grandfather saying, “That’s Ernie Banks, he’s real good!”
Even as a little kid, I could see he was good, better than anybody else on the Cubs. Not only did he play shortstop, and play it well, he hit home runs…lots of them. What kid doesn’t like to see home runs?? That was unheard of for a shortstop! Why, you’d have to go all the way back to Honus Wagner, according to my grandfather….
I fell in love with baseball back then, mostly because of that “wonderful old man,” as Brickhouse came to call him in later years. My story is no different from that of many of my friends and from many other Cub fans from my generation. That’s why we’re Cub fans today. That’s the kind of impact Ernie Banks had on our lives. And for that we’re forever grateful to him.
I can still hear the exuberant cheers that erupted from the stands whenever the old field announcer from the 50’s, raspy-voiced Pat Piper, announced Ernie’s name for the day’s game. (Old-time Cub fans will know what I mean when I write: “A-ten-chin’!…A-ten-chin’ please!…Have your pencils and scorecards ready, and I’ll give you the correct line-up for today’s game…”).
Those cheers for Ernie always dwarfed the cheers for any other Cub player. It was always worth watching a Cub game just to see Ernie play. Those Cub teams in the 50’s were pretty miserable, so Brickhouse had little to get excited about, except for this young power-hitting shortstop, just up from the Kansas City Monarchs, whoever they were. I can still remember how excited Brickhouse got whenever Ernie hit one into the bleachers:
Back!…Back!…Back!…Hey Hey!! Atta’ boy, Ernie!
We all have fond memories of how Ernie stood at the plate, bent slightly forward at the waist, bat held erect, and fingers wiggling nervously along the shaft of the bat. Ernie was known for his incredibly strong wrists. I remember shaking hands with Ernie once back in the 1970’s shortly after he had retired. The reason I remember it so vividly is that I felt like I had put my hand in a vise! Yes…I can attest that Ernie had strong hands and wrists!
Ernie personified everything that is good about this game we grew to love in our childhood: his sunny disposition, his love of the game, the way he interacted with the fans. Everybody loved Ernie. Even White Sox fans had a grudging admiration for him. I don’t think I ever heard a Sox fan say a bad word about him. He was a living personification of the Martin Luther King ideal of judging a man by the content of his character rather than the color of his skin. He lived this in the way he treated others – and the way others treated him.
That’s because Ernie Banks had a rare but wonderful God-given gift of being able to bring out the very best in everyone he met. What a wonderful legacy! Who among us would not be proud to have the same said about us when our days are over?
Little did I know that 60 years later, the love affair he inspired in a five-year-old kid would still be going strong. Ernie Banks was a great ball player for sure, but much more important than that, he was an even greater human being. We’ve endured a great loss today and we’re all very sad to hear the news. No doubt a part of all of us goes with him. And yet our lives have been enriched because we have had Ernie Banks in our midst.
May he rest in peace.
Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune, 24 January 2015; All others from Google search
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