Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, retired from baseball long before I started watching the game. Over nineteen seasons, he hit 512 Home Runs and won the MVP Award just two years before he hung up his cleats. Although I never saw him play the game, his influence on it, and me, cannot be missed by even the casual fan. His biggest record is a testament to how dedicated he was to the game, and how much the game has changed.
Yesterday, Ryan Vogelsong re-signed with the San Francisco Giants. He had been “very close” to a deal with Houston, but when he went to visit the Astros, he said that he “didn’t feel comfortable.” I don’t for certain what that means, for e the humidity n Houston is unbearable, but maybe it meant that he just didn’t know anybody and it made him feel a little lost. In any case, he quickly re-signed with the Giants.
Ernie Banks never experienced that process. Fans never wondered what team he would sign with over the off season, and no GM ever thought to themselves, “I should trade him to a competitive team for four prospects.” Mr. Cub was a Cub for life. I am equally sure that he wanted it that way, but you have to wonder if today’s system of free agency and lack of team loyalty is better or worse for the game? Where would Ernie Banks have gone if the opportunity had been available to him?
For whatever its worth, I hated Free Agency as it originally impacted the game. And the 1981 Strike just drove home how divisive the issue was at the time. But as years passed, and new and different teams began to become competitive, I think that the issued softened for fans. Yes, we missed the loyalty of some players, but at the same time it was replaced by the excitement of the off season and getting to see who your team went after, or if you’re a Mariners fan, what they didn’t do to improve the team.
Ernie Banks was one of the last of the Golden Age players, certainly of the Hall of Famers from that era of the 50’s and 60’s. He spent his whole career in Chicago with the Cubs and never tasted the post-season, even if he did sniff it a time or two. But one man can’t win a pennant, it takes a team. And for all of that time, the Cubs just never really had that team. Okay, maybe in 69, but then again, they’re the Cubs. And since Steve Bartman wasn’t around yet, they had to find a way to fall down on their own.
Cubs fans and Baseball fans everywhere mourn the passing of a man whose enthusiasm for the game was such that even while playing for the Cubs, he always wanted to play two. His laugh and smile were infectious, and even if you like me, never saw him play, you could watch his interviews and meet him in person and know that he had no regrets and that he played baseball for the love of the game.
Adieu, Ernie Banks.