The Night Ernie Banks Died

Wrigley Door
Ernie Banks died tonight. And in the summer green fields of heaven, they are playing baseball. Later on, I’ll go listen to Steve Goodman sing “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.” But not right now.

Tonight I hear the crack of the bat and the rumbling roar of the crowd in the sunshine. Mr. Cub has just hit his 500th home run and when you watch him lope around the bases, head down grace in motion, you’ll run those bases with him and it will be a trip that will last your whole life through.

Tomorrow there will be a news conference. There will be tributes. Tributes galore. But not right now. Right now there is a still, grey pallor that hangs over the city on this cold winter night. It’s like the opposite of baseball. The night Ernie Banks died.

6 blocks east, Wrigley Field lies in tatters. A renovation that won’t be done in time for the start of the season. A construction site that hurt my very soul when I first saw it. Place looks like someone took a giant cleat and stomped it into bits of broken toy.

So Ernie’s gone to greener fields to finish out his double header.

Here, we’ll still be expecting him on TV for just one more interview. I remember not too long ago he had an idea about ending hunger. That was Ernie. He made no small plans.

Here in this big shoulder city, as the years go on, if you look real hard when you’re walking down a street or a path through a park, and if you catch a glimpse of a smile like summer, or if you hear somebody talking happy, or if you see a gleam in someone’s eye like a warm day in June with the sun sprinkled soul of a giant; if you see any of that, you’ll be seeing Ernie Banks.

The best of us. That smile.

Everybody now, “Let’s Play Two!”

Here’s to Ernie. God bless him. Playing baseball in the sunshine.

“Let’s Play Two.”

5 Responses to “The Night Ernie Banks Died”

  1. boomerbob Says:

    I can remember when baseball heroes were the norm. We idolized them, revered them and even worshiped them (along with other sports).

    Sadly, it seems that era is long passed and what was the norm is now the exception.

  2. David Ramesh Says:

    Would that by the time it’s my turn to move on, the very mention of my name would bring the smell of Wrigley Field grass, the crack of the bat and roar of the crowd, and the love of life and best of Chicago to mind, as does the name Ernie Banks. Perfect tribute, Roger. Perfect.

  3. Tom Dickinson Says:

    Thanks, Roger for the great tribute. No one could say it all as well as you, with legitimate connections and affections going back almost as far as mine.

    As a Milwaukee Braves fan in the late 50s and early 60s (before the scoundrel Jack McHale took them to Atlanta), playing the Cubs was a time of relief, to relax and not worry about the outcome. It was not worth travelling to Milwaukee to see the Cubs, you waited for The Dodgers (Drysdale, Koufax, Podres, Snider, Roseboro, Wills, Hodges, etc.) or the Giants (Marichal, Mays, McCormick, McCovey, Cepeda etc.) to spend your $1.75 in paper route money for an upper deck seat at Milwaukee County Stadium, and then expected the Braves to get pounded or aced by opposing pitchers (I saw a Koufax-Spahn game in person, Koufax won the game by hitting a home run, one of 2 or 3 in his career!). The Cubs and the Phillies, and soon, the Mets, were the biggest losers in the National League, and it was kind of fun to listen as Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, Bob Buhl, Bob Shaw, Denver Lemaster and other Braves pitchers easily dispatched these teams.

    But the Cubs had Ernie Banks and Ron Santo. Either one could always spoil a game with a well timed 2 or 3 run homer. I think Ernie actually hit one out the night Spahn won his 300th game, which the Braves won 3-2. Ernie had to be feared, but respected.

    I remember the Braves radio announcers (Blaine Walsh and Earl Gilliespie) always mentioned Ernie with a compliment, both in terms of his on field capabilities, but also, how easy he was to interview, how much fun he had playing, what a nice guy he was, etc, all the Ernie Banks legend stuff…except it wasn’t legend, it was true.

    Ernie Banks was a special player in a special place and time in MLB history, with other heroes of that time like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Stan Musial, etc. (My National League bias still shows…). He was like a slimmed down Hank Aaron, such a natural player, super strong wrists, graceful run and throw fielder. Odd that he played shortstop, when these other big guys were mostly outfielders.

    Ernie brought fun and excitement to the game. I think I still have his1959 NL MVP baseball card. Could never trade that one away!

  4. T A Price Says:

    When the familiar goes askew, our heart aches along with each mark of passing. I read the ache.

  5. Naomi de Plume Says:

    This gave me chills, the good kind.

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