|A young Ernie Banks|
More importantly for Chicago, he was the face of the Cubs franchise and a ray of sunshine among the gloom of Chicago baseball. You see, that era was a bad time for Cubs fans; they were perennial losers. They hadn't been to the World Series since 1945 and hadn't won it since 1906 (streaks of futility that are ongoing today). But this didn't bother Ernie; he just loved playing the game. His famous catchphrase was "Let's play two!" He wasn't ready to go home when the game was over; he wanted to play another. His skill and his optimism endeared him to the city of Chicago.
During the 60s, I was one of those legions of Ernie Banks fans. I remember coming home from school and turning on the game to see how Ernie was doing. I was such a fan that I would get jealous for him if any other player had a better game than him (hey, I was really young - the whole team aspect was a little beyond my grasp then). Ernie Banks was my first sports hero.
It has been many years since Banks graced the baseball field. Since then, my interest in baseball has waned. In 1971 (the year he retired), my family moved to South Florida and I began following the Miami Dolphins football team (at the time Miami did not have a Major League Baseball team - some would say that we still don't). Today, I am more a fan of football than baseball. Nevertheless, when I read of Banks's passing, memories of my youth came flooding back: Rushing home to watch him on TV; my Dad taking me to Wrigley to see him in person; pretending to be Ernie Banks while playing baseball in the backyard. Banks may never have won a World Series, but he was a champion in a young boy's heart, and I thank him for those good times and good memories.
"Let's play two!"