Friday, January 23, 2015

Game Called on Account of Tears: Mr. Cub is gone

AP Photo/Jim Prisching"

Such beauty, in a smile, in a swing, in the conduct of a life well-lived. Ernie Banks had it all. Not even The Curse, nor a career devoid of a single postseason game could obscure the fact that when Ernie Banks stepped from the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues in 1953, a bright, shining star was born.

Mr. Banks, who became a fixture on The North Side, died Friday, mere days before his 84th birthday. Now, the man who always saw the possibility in the bright light of day, who always thought two games were preferable to a mere one, will play no more.

In baseball, there is a saying that you can rest in the off-season. Mr. Banks, there is no game today, just eternal rest, and the gratitude of a game and a nation.

Mr. Banks, signed by the Kansas City Monarchs as a 19--year-old before World War II, served two years in the military before making the transition from the Leagues of Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson, to Wrigley Field. He was not the first to help shatter stereotypes and push the national pastime away from its shameful segregation policies. There could only be one Jackie Robinson, and thankfully only one game-wide color barrier to smash.

But Mr. Banks was the first African American to play for the Chicago Cubs,  putting the National League team on the  right side of the ledger in The Second City's baseball history. He then crafted his legacy by using his bat with the skill of a surgeon, his glove with the deftness of an artist, and his personality with more congeniality than found in a thousand beauty contests. He was a perfect teammate for sweet-swinging Billy Williams and Ron Santo. The three future Hall of Famers were inextricably linked, not because of the Cubs' futility, but because their charm and talents made all those near-misses and canceled parades tolerable in a city that never tired of dreaming. 
The tale of the tape, chronicled from debut to Cooperstown, includes Banks 11 All-Star Games, more than 500 home runs and back-to-back MVP honors, a National League first. He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, his first year eligible.

Banks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to civilians in the United States, by President Barack Obama in 2013.

Even that seems like to little. Thank you for your service, and your belief in us all, Mr. Banks. Thank you for making us smile while always wishing for just one more game.