One of my childhood heroes passed away this week. His name was Ernie Banks. I remember a lot about Ernie. I remember watching him play. I remember when he hit his 500th home run – I even saved the newspaper clipping of the big achievement. Ernie played for the Chicago Cubs for 19 seasons, and is probably considered the best ballplayer to never get to play in the World Series. You see, the Cubs were usually near the bottom of the standings. Ernie never got his “big chance” to shine.
So, then, why does everybody mourn his passing as more than just a ballplayer? It is because those who knew him most likely remember the two things for which he is most famous: his catchphrase of “Let’s play two!” and the fact that he always smiled.
I often wondered how a man who played on a team that was considered to be “losers” could always be smiling. I wished that I could look at the game the way that he did – just for the beauty of it, and for the blessing of being young and alive and able to play such a marvelous game. I wanted to be just like him. He loved baseball and so do I.
Please do not be misled, Ernie was a GREAT ballplayer. He achievements were many. He played in the Negro Leagues at a time when Major League Baseball was just starting to become integrated. In fact, he was the 9th African-American in all of baseball, and the first-ever on the Chicago Cubs. He made the All-Star team 14 times, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.
But those achievements do not speak of Ernie’s true power. His power was in the way he acted, in the things he said, and in the positive attitude that he emitted. He was an ambassador of the game and the impetus for positive change in America.
Everybody loved Ernie Banks. Ernie used that love to make the world a better place. There was more power in one Ernie Banks’ smile than in the clenched fists of ten angry men. Oh how I wish we could follow his example.
Ernie, let’s play two!”