Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ernie Banks: My hero!

What with all the disturbing news in the world of baseball, I'm finding myself thinking about my all-time favorite player, Ernie Banks, who started playing for the Cubs when I was 1 year old. He was the first black player ever to play for Chicago, and he continued with them until he retired from the game in 1971. In one sense, he wasn't exactly repaid for his loyalty--despite 512 home runs (the most ever by a shortstop), 1636 runs batted in, 5 grand slam homers in the 1955 season alone (a record at that time that has only been topped 3 times since), and winning the National League's Most Valuable Player twice, he never got to play in a World Series game, and holds the major league record of most games played without a postseason appearance.

Despite what must have been bitter disappointment that his own greatness didn't leak onto his teammates, Ernie Banks was always and ever loyal to the Cubs, and on the strength of his and my Grandpa's love for the Cubs, I've never wavered in my own attachment to a team that has broken my heart over and over. The last time the Cubs won the World Series was in 1908--this coming year will be the 100th anniversary of that. And the Cubs never even made it into the World Series to lose it since 1945, when Ernie Banks was 14 years old. Oddly enough, 14 just happens to be Ernie Banks' Cubs uniform number.

I saw him play a few games at Wrigley Field, but he retired before I became a birder and before Peregrine Falcons were reintroduced in the East. I saw a Peregrine fly over the ball park once when Russ and I brought our kids to a game in the early 90s. It flew overhead as fast and true as an Ernie Banks grand slam.

Ernie Banks never resorted to "performance enhancing" anything to accomplish all he did. He was, and is, the real deal. I hope he lives long enough to witness the Cubs get into, and win, a World Series. 2008--the 100th anniversary of their last win--would sure be a good year for it.