“You must try to generate happiness within yourself. If you aren’t happy in one place, chances are you won’t be happy anyplace.” – Ernie Banks
Sadly, the man who embodied an entire franchise, who represented the team and personified the Cubby Way, took his final at bat on Friday, January 23. It’s ironic that the thing he is known the most for, is the thing that ultimately gave out. His heart was bigger than the city of Chicago and he tried to share his youthful optimism for the game he loved with everyone he met and with every interview he gave. Alas, that heart, the one he gave to the city and to the fans and to the Chicago Cubs gave out and took its final curtain call, leaving a city and fan base in mourning.
The Chicago Cubs have been around for 145 years and have had thousands of players, and of those thousands of players, 40 of them have been inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Ernie was, of course, elected to baseball’s hall of fame. He finished his career with 512 home runs, 14 All Star Games and two National League MVPs. He wore his heart on the field and gave his off the field and with that he earned the nickname that thousands of ball players failed to earn before him. The dominant players of the early 1900s couldn’t get it. The World Series players of the 40s couldn’t grab it and there will be no one who could ever fill it. Mr. Cub.
If you think about it, no man has ever become their franchise’s namesake, as much as Ernie had. Sure, you had the Yankee Clipper, but that is about it. Most other nicknames are Red, or Lefty, or Homer, or the Killer Tomato. Ernie was Mr. Cub. He represented an entire fan base. A fan base that, thanks to WGN, spanned the entire nation. He did this all with a smile on his face. An exuberance that wasn’t matched by any. He did it everyday saying, “Beautiful day for a ballgame…Let’s play two!”
And let’s play two they should! Rob Manfred has been on the job now for only a few days, and has a lot of things to work out after taking over for ex-Commissioner, Bud Selig. A dwindling fan-base. An older fan base, really and bad public relations with continuing allegations of performance enhancing drugs. Aside from exonerating Pete Rose, Rob Manfred needs to declare an Ernie Banks day in baseball. On Ernie Banks day all scheduled games will be a natural double-header, not a day-night double-header, and it will be perfect. Ernie transcended all of baseball in this regard, and like Jackie Robinson, broke the color barrier for the Chicago Cubs. An honor like this is fitting, and would help bring attention to a dwindling game that has a giant place in my heart. Rob, if you ever have the pleasure of reading this, or if you have read the similar takes from other writers, seriously consider the honor. A moment of silence is great. A patch will help us remember. An Ernie Banks day will help bring smiles to the game as big as his.
When Harry Caray passed in 1998, there was a magical season. Kid K burst on the scene and stole the hearts of a hurting fan base and, if not for a terrible third baseman, would have pitched the single greatest game in the history of baseball. The Cubs went to the playoffs that year and were ultimately bounced but would be back in five years. Kerry Wood’s biggest fan passed away in 2010. He was a teammate of Ernie’s. He brought a lot of smiles our way through his enthusiasm. I’m writing of course about Ron Santo. The Cubs did not have a particularly great year in 2011, but it sparked a transformation. General Manager Jim Hendry was fired and in came Theo. Our savior. The man who will bring winning baseball back to the Northside.
The past few years have been tiring seasons, but they were prescribed that way, but this offseason has been one filled with optimism. That same optimism that Ernie gives you when you see his smile. That happiness that he generated in himself is beginning to pour into the Northside and into the city again. We have our manager and a clubhouse ace and bench full of young studs waiting to take us through a summer full of hope, drama and glory. The park that Ernie called home for 19 years is getting renovated and modernized. We’ll finally get to see a replay. Maybe this is the year. Then again there’s always next year. Either way, we’ll have another angel in the outfield helping the wind blow out just when we need it.
I don’t know if we will ever have an ambassador as beloved as Mr. Cub. It’s tough in this day and age of free agency. I am glad to be a part of a fan base that has a Mr. Cub. To Ernie, thank you for being a great friend and teacher of the game. I plan to teach my son as much as I know about the game and you are a part of that lore now. This year will be fun and it is truly sad you can’t be there for the ride. Either way, wherever you are, I bet you are happy.
Please to enjoy.