Hot off the Press: The March issue featuring a tribute to Ernie Banks
On Jan. 31, 2015, the Cubs organization laid to rest the most beloved player in franchise history, Ernie Banks. For our special March issue, we talked to former players, front office members, fans and many others whose lives Ernie touched to find out what made Mr. Cub so special. We also have our 2015 season preview and a Q&A with new bench coach Dave Martinez. But, really, March is all about Ernie. Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts opened Banks’ memorial ceremony with a touching tribute. In lieu of our usual opening remarks, this month we let Ricketts, who got to know Mr. Cub well over the years as both a player and a man, kick things off. The following is a slightly condensed version of his speech from the service. I couldn’t have said it better myself. – Gary Cohen
Hitting: good. Running: good. Attitude: very good.In 1953, baseball scout Hugh Wise typed these words into a report describing a 22-year-old Negro League baseball player named Ernest Banks. When asked on the scouting form how long it would be until the young shortstop was ready to play in the majors, Wise succinctly stated, “Can play now.” And while it was Mr. Wise’s intent to describe Ernie Banks the baseball player, he may as well have been describing Ernie Banks the man when he wrote in that very same report, “No outstanding weaknesses.”
Wise saw Ernie Banks play only three times that year, yet he knew he had found a special player and a special person. Later that summer, Ernie debuted as a Cub, and he went on to play 2,528 games over 19 seasons and collect 2,583 hits, 1,636 RBI and 512 home runs.
While those are incredible stats, never in history have numbers fallen so far short in describing the true greatness of an athlete.
Perhaps more so than any other great player in history, Ernie Banks was known as much for his off-the-field demeanor as for his on-the-field performance. Ernie was a model of decency and humility and was defined by his sunny, optimistic outlook on baseball and life.
Ernie was, of course, known as Mr. Cub. But you don’t get to be called Mr. Cub because you play in a lot of games or hit a lot of home runs. You become Mr. Cub because you love the game, the team, and the ballpark in a truly honest and sincere way.
After he retired, Ernie was asked if he missed going to work, to which he famously replied, “Work? I have never worked a day in my life. I always loved what I was doing.”
Ernie Banks was the most kind, sincere man I have ever known, and despite his fame and high profile, he always had time for everyone. The thing that sticks with me is how hard it was to get Ernie to talk about himself. He would say, “How are you doing? What do you do for a living? Do you have kids? Where do they live? How are your parents?”
Ernie was a warm, friendly human being who truly cared about those around him. I talked to dozens of people who dropped by the visitation yesterday, and almost everyone had a story in which Ernie somehow touched them in some small but meaningful way.
As we all know, Ernie Banks is not Mr. Cub because the fans loved him. Ernie Banks is Mr. Cub because he loved us back. It turns out Ernie became Mr. Cub through no other magic than just being himself. The bond he created with this city and with Cubs fans had no precedent in sport, and it will never be replicated.
For everyone who knew Ernie, and particularly for those of us who work at the Cubs, the thought of a summer at Wrigley Field without the smile of Ernie Banks, the laugh of Ernie Banks, the singing—and, sometimes, dancing—of Ernie Banks is just too painful to consider.
But the pain of the loss will always be balanced by the smiles that are only a memory away and the joy that will always be in our hearts, for we were all truly blessed to have known such a wonderful person.
So as we gather today to pay our final respects to this good and great man, I speak for all fans when I say, “Ernie, thank you. We love you, and we already miss you. And while we miss you dearly, we also know that as the Cubs take the field on a bright, sunny afternoon at Wrigley Field, you will be right there with us.”