“There’s sunshine, fresh air, and the team’s behind us. Let’s play two.”
— Ernie Banks
To say I was always a big fan of Ernie Banks would be stretching the truth, but with his death Friday at age 83, I’m feeling the loss.
Mr. Cub, as he was affectionately known, started playing baseball in Chicago in 1953, before I was born, and he was still playing baseball in Chicago in 1971 when I was a Texas high school boy rooting for the division-rival Houston Astros.
In 19 seasons wearing a Chicago Cubs uniform, Banks played 2,528 games without ever making a playoff appearance. Folks, that is a record of failure.
Maybe that’s why I loved him. Baseball — more than any other sport — embraces failure. A batter can fail seven times out of ten and be considered a great hitter. Ernie Banks embraced a legacy of failure and kept smiling. He would never win a championship, never taste the champagne, yet he is considered one of the all-time greats, and was elected to the Hall of Fame.
Today I’m happy to say that I saw Ernie Banks play. I remember seeing him hit a home run in a game I was watching on television, and it’s always a special memory when you can say that you saw a Hall of Famer play.
An eternal optimist who had every reason to be a pessimist, Ernie Banks’ name was synonymous with baseball. He was perhaps the greatest ambassador for the game in my lifetime, and he was a winner in my book.
So long, Ernie. I really do wish that we could play two.