Tag Archives: ernie banks

We can thank Banks for Cubs hope

I can picture the man upstairs whispering to Ernie Banks in the night.

“Your work is done, Ernie,” He says. “Time to come home.”

“What? Now? But the Cubs haven’t won the World Series,” Ernie says. “I’ve lived for the Cubbies almost my whole life. How can my work be done?”

“The World Series wasn’t your job, Ernie,” He says. “Your job was giving everyone hope, carrying the flame in the dark times, smiling in the face of hopelessness. The Cubs will be OK now. I promise.”

newyear

“I am tired,” Ernie says. “But I don’t want to miss the good times.”

“Ha,” God chortles. “You won’t miss anything. There’s PLENTY of Cubs fan up here remember. I’ve heard about 1969 more times than I can count. We’ve reserved the Heavendome to watch the World Series when the Cubs make it — seats a couple million — and we’ve got a front row seat reserved for you. Right next to a guy you might know, Ron Santo.”

Ernie smiles as only Ernie could smile, even in the face of death. “That does sound very nice,” he says.


I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there might not be a Chicago Cubs these days without Ernie Banks. They easily could be in Fort Lauderdale, or at least Schaumburg. The sports world is littered with teams whose fan bases’ lost interest during prolonged losing, stopped buying tickets, refused to upgrade facilities and eventually let their teams float out of town on a sea of apathy.

Not the Cubs. They not only survived through last place finish after last place finish, they flourished, becoming more entrenched at Clark and Addison even as Wrigley Field started to crumble around them. Why? Because like every good fairy tale, they had a hero. They had someone who charged forward in the face of overwhelming adversity, who smiled in the face of doom, who offered the rarest of gifts to the downtrodden: hope. That someone was Ernie Banks.

The Cubs were one of the last teams to employ an African American player. Banks didn’t just break the color barrier in Chicago, he obliterated it. When he arrived from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues in 1953, he appeared to be really glad to be in Chicago, and he never lost that wide-eyed joy of being paid to play baseball. Fans got that on a basic level that ran deeper than skin color, and they embraced Banks for it.

Nobody likes the person who makes it big and suddenly thinks he’s much better than the people he left behind. Even after the MVPs, Banks played with the enthusiasm of a rookie and spoke to fans like they were his next door neighbor.

Some have argued that Banks’ “Let’s play two” or “The Cubs will heavenly in sixty-seven-ly” phrases, the ever-present smile, the unwillingness to express frustration — even with civil rights issues — was a well-calculated act, even to the point of being Uncle Tom-ish.

I like to think that Banks looked around at the suffering in the world, acknowledged that the Cubs’ plight was a metaphor for people’s everyday frustration and DECIDED to be a beacon of hope. Like any good beacon he knew that there are no days off. The one day that the beacon goes dark is the one day that the ship crashes on the rocks.

So he didn’t use his platform to debate social injustice. So what? Do you really want to fault a man for showing us how to smile in the face of life’s challenges EVERY DAY, for DECADES. Try being Ernie Banks at your job this week. Stay upbeat, look for the good in things, keep smiling even when life is getting you down. I bet you — I bet I — can’t make it until lunch.

Banks kept it up every day in the face of repeated seventh-place finishes. Even 1969’s debacle didn’t wipe the smile from his face. Or retiring after 19 years in the big leagues and NEVER making the playoffs. And it rubbed off.

Fans stayed interested in the team. Cubs fans developed a stubborn resilience, a reputation for having a good time even when the ship was sinking … again. “Wait till next year” was said with real belief that things will get better.

We didn’t become apathetic, didn’t tune out. We did the opposite. We became more committed to seeing this thing through, 1969 or 2003 be damned. In large part we have Ernie Banks to thank for that hope. He kept the fire burning through the darkest time and shared that spark with all of us.


“Now’s the time Ernie,” God says.

“Let’s do it,” Ernie says. “If this is the way, I’m on board.”

“Just one more thing, Ernie,” God says. “I’ve been working on something. How about this? ‘In 1-5 the Cubs are alive, thanks to Banks.'”

“Hey that’s great,” Ernie beams. “That’s great.”

You can reach me at Patrick@CubsFanTherapy.com.

How Baez Ranks With Cubs Hall Of Famers

When you’ve been wandering in the desert for years, any water tastes delicious. Javier Baez is treating us to champagne.

Certainly Baez, who has three home runs in his first five major league games, could turn into a mirage. Let’s drink it up the good stuff while it lasts, though. And he is giving up good stuff, almost unprecedented stuff. The Cubs have been around for a long time, and Baez is arguably off to one of the best starts of any Cub ever.

Seem like hyperbole? Well, let’s compare. I’ve put together the slash line through five games for all Cubs Hall of Famers going back to Hack Wilson (seemed like a fair cutoff in terms of the makeup of the ball, how the game is played etc.)

I sorted them by OPS, and as you can see Baez ranks fourth.

4gameOPS

Not too shabby. If you sort by slugging percentage, however, he’s top of the list. This many homers in this short of time will do that for you.

4gameSLG

Five games is a ridiculously small sample size. As you can see, Ryne Sandberg ranks dead last in both charts through five games. (Note that I used Ryno’s first experience with the Cubs in 1982 although he appeared with the Phillies in September 1981 but had only six plate appearances.) Just as in Sandberg’s day, Baez’s small sample size does not prevent close dissection. Couple of strikeouts, he stinks. Home run, he’s going to the Hall of Fame.

It’s not fair either way, but you don’t exactly think clearly after so many years spent lost in a wasteland.

We’ll see how Baez ranks compared to the Hall of Famers as the season winds down.

Meanwhile, let’s go with the craziness and vote on how his career will end up since he’s a robust five games into it.

How will Javier Baez's career turn out?

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You can reach us at Cubs Fan Therapy.

Remember Sandberg When Watching Baez

Chicago appears poised to throw a parade on Michigan Avenue to celebrate the debut of Javier Baez. That’s good and it’s bad.

It’s good because Cubs fans need some things to get excited about. The rebuild feels like its in second semester of senior year of college. We’ve got ants in our pants to get on with real life — get a job, make some MONEY, buy a car, get an apartment and live it up. We’re basically mailing it in paying attention to classes. Just like we’re less than completely enthusiastic about watching the major league version of the Cubs.

Baez gives hope that one day these baby Cubbies will be all grows up and doing big things in the world.

And that’s where we need to take a deep breath and temper our expectations. Most of us ended up back home after college, listening to mom say to get our feet off the coffee table while we struggled to get a job and start our real life.

Baez will struggle. Even the great ones do. Ryne Sandberg hit .167 during his September call-up with the Phillies in 1981. The next year with the Cubs he didn’t get a hit until his seventh game. He was batting under .200 after a month. Plenty of fans said he was overrated, a flop even. But he adjusted and finished .271/.312/.372 and was sixth in Rookie of the Year voting.

You just never know in a small sample size. Mr. Cub Ernie Banks hit .314 in his 1953 September audition. But in his first full season the next year he was batting .148 after seven games, though he did have five RBIs. Did some people think the previous fall was an apparition? Certainly.

Baez will most likely post some mixed bag of numbers like that. He’ll strike out. He’ll hit some bombs. That’s the point. He needs to acclimate to the big leagues and make adjustments. He struggled when he started at a Triple A this year, but it all worked out.

We all just need to chill. It only feels like the entire Cubs season, maybe even the Cubs’ future is riding on how this 21-year-old kid does. That’s not the case. There are others coming. He’s just the first.

And in the Cubs rebuilding process, this is only the very start of what could be a real change — maybe the beginning of the end of a long, long, long period of suffering. See, I’m doing it too, having too much riding on this moment, this kid.

Guess I’m a Cubs fan.

You can reach us at Cubs Fan Therapy.