A word about Ernie Banks (1931-2015)
In my days in Wisconsin, we used to walk home from school. One afternoon, I was by myself and saw this elderly couple listening to the radio, a ball game on the radio.
I asked: “Who is playing”
The lady said: “The Cubs of course”
I saw the box score the next day and saw that a fellow named Banks played first.
A few years later, that fellow Banks hit # 500 against the Braves.
We were saddened to hear that Ernie Banks died at age 83.
My guess is that most people don’t know much about his younger days in Dallas, Texas:
“Banks was known universally as “Mr. Cub.”
His mantra “Let’s play two,” referred to his desire to play two games daily for a team that too often struggled to compete.
But Banks’ roots were in Dallas where he was raised on Fairmount Street in what was then known as North Dallas. Today, the downtown Arts District stands in what had been his old neighborhood.
The neighborhood was part of a segregated city back then. Banks was one of 12 children born to Eddie and Essie Banks. He attended nearby Booker T. Washington High School where he was a wide receiver on the football team and played on the softball team. The school did not have a baseball team.
While growing up, he spent many a summer day catching pre-dawn rides on the back of flatbed trucks heading north to the sleepy town of Frisco, where he would earn $1.75 a day picking cotton.
After his 10-game season with the Cubs in 1953, Banks returned to live with his family at 1723 Fairmount Street. To help make ends meet, he landed a job as a bellman at the ritzy Adolphus Hotel, less than a one-mile walk from home.
“Our North Dallas was a great place to grow up,” Banks said in a 2013 interview with The Dallas Morning News in advance of his Presidential honor.
Banks was guided to baseball by a neighbor, William Blair, who played in the old Negro Leagues. Blair, who had watched in awe as Banks pounded softballs over the outfield wall at Booker T., first added him to a barnstorming team he managed. Then Blair steered him to the Negro Leagues’ famed Kansas City Monarchs.
After two years in the Army, it was on to Chicago.
“Not many people know I am from Dallas,” Banks said in the 2013 interview. “I used to get back there some, but I haven’t been there recently…”
Banks said then the last time he had been in Dallas for any extended time was in 2009 when his mother Essie died. “Unfortunately, I only seem to get there now for funerals,” he said.
Blair, who founded the Elite News, a newspaper that served Dallas’ African-American community and worked there for more than five decades, was the driving force behind the establishment of Dallas’ Martin Luther King Jr. People’s Parade.
He hoped to someday organize at least one parade in honor of Ernie Banks.
Blair died in April at age 92.
Asked in 2013 if he might like a parade in his hometown, Banks responded gleefully.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” he said. “I’d be glad to come home.””
Ernie Banks never got “to come home”.
Over the years, I’ve seen some great players in person and TV. Sadly, I never got to see Ernie Banks in person but do recall hearing #500 on WGN radio.
Banks was a great player. Better than that, he was a great human being.
We will miss Ernie Banks for a long time.